Berger’s Burg: Valentine’s Day tailor-made for kissing, the sport of lovers

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There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved. — George Sand

Feb. 14 is Valentine’s Day. It is not a legal or religious holiday. But it is important in the personal calendars of many married and single people. Something about it resonates with even the most cynical of hearts.

The pursuit of love is never easy, but thankfully we live in an age and a place where there is a Valentine’s Day to help find and keep it. This was not always the case.

Did you know farmers in the English countryside two centuries ago were a lonely lot? Young people began moving to cities for factory jobs and work in the field left little time for courting the few available females still around. Fortunately, the forerunner of the Valentine’s Day card, advertisements, began appearing in newspapers of that era.

“Seven wives wanted” proclaimed one ad by the Times of London in April 1801. “Ladies of respectability, desirous of entering into the Matrimonial State, may hear of Seven Gentlemen, who are desirous of enjoying true Connubial Bliss.” And hence the written word to woo the opposite sex came into being.

But in the third century AD, during the reign of Claudius II, there were no newspapers and wives were a particularly tough item to attain. The empire was at war and control-freak Claudius had forbidden his Roman soldiers to marry. He was convinced that, once betrothed, the men would prefer to stay home with their wives and families than to go off and fight.

Whether or not the emperor was correct in his reasoning, his law stood, stymieing thousands of Roman inamorata. A priest, M. Aurelius Valentine, took pity on the passionate multitudes and, defying the emperor’s decree, married young lovers in secret. He was arrested, imprisoned and beheaded Feb. 14.

But the beheaded humanitarian had nothing to do with the origin of St. Patrick’s Day. It goes back long before the beginning of Christianity. The Romans held a festival around Feb. 14th called Lupercalia in honor of a citizen who had protected the city from wolves. Young people drew lots for those who would be their partners for the day. Years later, the same customs arose in England and France and it was called “St. Valentine’s Day.”

Now, sentimental Valentine’s Day, when thoughts of love and romance fill the air, is an occasion to ask the age-old question, “What is love?” This powerful emotion can overtake the judgment of the most rational people. It could also affect infants who do not receive it and adults who may become incomplete human beings when deprived of it. It is a sensibility necessary for a well-rounded and healthy existence and deserves our attention. So what is love?

Simply, love is the thrill of hearing bells ringing in your belfry, the tingling of butterflies fluttering in your abdomen, the prickle of faint but consistent murmurs in the soles of your feet, the clinking of your tongue as you attempt to speak and, frequently, the feeling of a swarm of bees building a beehive in your bonnet. That is love.

Nonetheless, Valentine’s Day over the years has become the perfect time to tell that perfect someone that you care for her or him in the perfect way. That someone may be your spouse, significant other, friend, teacher, parent, child or pet. Love has no parameters.

An important component of Valentine’s Day for sweethearts is kisses — lots and lots of kisses. A panel of scientists recently examined the mystery of kissing and what happens when hearts throb and lips lock. Kissing, it turns out, unleashes chemicals that ease stress hormones in both sexes and encourages bonding. And chemicals in the saliva is a fail-proof way to assess a mate.

So, lovers, when you take a break from the lip-locks, ponder these facts about your favorite pastime: Kisses burn 26 calories in a one-minute kiss, human brains have special neutrons that help people locate each other’s lips in the dark, a man who kisses his wife goodbye when he leaves for work averages a higher income than a guy who does not, 50 percent of people have kissed before they turn 14 and the average woman kisses 79 men before she is married.

In addition, it is illegal in Indiana for a mustachioed man to “habitually kiss human beings.” In Hartford, Conn., it is illegal for a husband to kiss his wife on Sunday. In Cedar Rapids, Iowa, it is illegal to kiss a stranger. In Queens, it is illegal to kiss my weekly column.

Don’t you just love Valentine’s Day? I do.

Contact Alex Berger at

Updated 6:01 pm, October 10, 2011
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