Leading Article: Slush, mush and an orgy of marketing

HE IS listed in Butler's Lives of Patron Saints in between Ubald, patron saint for protection from dog bites, rabies or hydrophobia, and Venantius, patron saint against danger from falling, or jumping and leaping. It would make just as much sense, theologically, historically and superstitiously, for card printers and helium-filled balloon-makers to sell "beware of the dog" paraphernalia on 16 May. Or "mind the gap" paraphernalia on 18 May.

But no. Slush, mush, and a cheap synthetic notion of romantic love have made St Valentine the commercial success story of the coldest month. The doubtful legacy of at least two separate saints called Valentine, who are both alleged to have died on 14 February, has been fed into the homogenising machine of modern capitalism for creating popular culture. Valentine has been extruded in much the same way as the equally doubtful history of St Nicholas. Church pleas to recall the ostensible purpose of the Christ Mass in marking the birth of Jesus have been drowned by the racket of toy advertising, which starts long before the day of the patron saint of children on 6 December. The red-jacketed Santa Claus was not, in fact, invented by the Coca-Cola corporation, but he might as well have been. (According to Butler's, St Nicholas is also patron saint of brides, unmarried women, pawnbrokers, perfumiers, Russia, travellers and sailors - a range of commercial opportunities which remain unexploited so far.)

Is nothing sacred? It appears not. Easter is heading the same way, for the purpose of retailing large quantities of chocolate. It is the pagan fertility symbols which get top billing rather than the cross and the stigmata.

As soon as the Xmas'n'New Year double retailing opportunity was over, some supermarkets immediately began displaying Easter eggs - skipping Valentine's Day in their eagerness to hit the next pre-programmed "special occasion".

A calendar based on saint's days has now been reconstructed in a series of artificial festivals celebrated in the temples of mammon. Mother's Day is next. Hallowe'en and Guy Fawkes have increasing potential as a kind of two-for-the-price-of-one bumper special. Supermarkets are even trying to flog turkeys for Thanksgiving and the invented Father's Day is now an established feature. New days for grandparents, siblings and in-laws are in the offing. And this year all this date-ology will end in the consummate silliness of the new millennium.

Yes, we know. All newspapers succumb to the romantic fever in some form (and we too are guilty). But all the same, roll on Monday.

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