The Luperci Begin Taking Back Their Holiday

Instead of just buying your sweetie a gooey St. Valentine’s Day card and a box of Godiva chocolates, it is starting to appear that the changing times dictate a trip to the nearest love hotel.

Or so World Hotels hopes. Love letters are just so yesterday, according to a press release by the hotel chain that was sent out -- by utter coincidence— two days before St. Valentine’s Day. The press release cites a survey that now the preferred activity is a night at a hostelry -- presumably for a bit of shagging. And, surprise surprise, World Hotels owns 500 hotels in more than 300 destinations and 70 countries around the world. In case you want to get your sweetie to someplace discreet and hidden from the missus.

Certainly, for a holiday that isn’t even a holiday except for those who call in sick the next day, Valentine’s Day has remarkably become the second-biggest commercial consumer event in the yearly calendar, with the world's yuppies spending hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars on each other. Hong Kong, where the World Hotels press release originated in the bowels of the Grebstad Hicks flackery, is rapidly becoming one of the world’s most expensive venues for the day, and one of the lustiest. The island ferries are packed with couples headed for love hotels on the beaches in Silvermine Bay and other strategic locations, where the air becomes thick enough to palpate.

With World Hotels’ connivance, Valentine’s Day only seems to be reverting to its lustier roots. Before the Christians came along and spoiled everybody’s fun, the tradition is believed to have originated as a fertility festival about 2,300 years ago.

According to several website dealing with the history of the event, “priests known as the Luperci would meet at the Cave of Lupercal, where a she-wolf was said to have nursed Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of the city of Rome.” Vestal virgins would offer holy salt cakes and the priests would sacrifice a dog and a goat, smearing the animal blood onto the foreheads of youth of noble birth. The nobles would then gently lash their women with a goatskin strip, which was thought to make them fertile.

During the festiveal of the Luperci, “the names of willing young women were placed into a box or urn and drawn by lot by every young, unmarried man. The youths and maidens who were thus matched would be considered partners during the course of the coming year, which began in March. Although such matches were generally for sexual gratification, it was not unusual for the pairings to eventually culminate in marriage.

But along came the Christians. As early as the 5th Century AD, the church set out to abolish the pagan celebration and to create its own holiday, selecting a saint remembered for his devotion to love rather than filthy sex. It wasn’t altogether successful, at least for 1,000 years.

During the 16 Century, Saint Francis de Sales, the Bishop of Geneva, tried again to make it a holiday of virtue and romance, but it proved equally (if not more) unsuccessful as the first and was certainly shorter-lived. “Eventually, the Church looked for a suitable Patron Saint of Love to take the place of the heathen Lupercus. They found an appropriate choice in Saint Valentine.”

Thus for about 500 years, Christianity has been more or less successful in attempting to substitute love for lust on Feb. 14. Now World Hotels is out to make that a thing of the past. Key findings of the hotel chain’s survey are that lovers:

•Book dinner at a favourite restaurant – 44% of male and 40% of female participants said this was how they would surprise their loved-one on Valentines Day

•Book a romantic trip abroad – 52% of male and 48% of female participants chose this as their preferred way to celebrate Valentines Day if it falls on a weekend

•Escape for a romantic hide-away trip – even if it falls during the week 30% of male and 22% of female participants are inspired to spend Valentines Day somewhere special with their lover.

•Only a lousy 15 percent of males are shameful enough to “buy a small gift as a token of your love” according to the survey.

For those married a bit longer, it is an ordeal. “Hide under the bed and wait for Valentine's Day to pass.” That is how one unenthusiastic husband responded. "Christmas bankrupted me and now I am supposed to buy gold chains and throw away more money," grumbled the unidentified spouse.