Bewildering Stories

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Bewildering Stories Editorial

by Byron Bailey

Xochiquetzal’s Holiday

Neither the snow piled outside my door nor the icicles dangling from the gutters chill me as much as the thought of February 14. It’s called Saint Valentine’s Day and I somehow managed to survive it this year. Traditionally, Saint Valentine’s Day is perceived of as a Christian holiday. At least in the USA, though, this holiday has taken a very sinister turn.

The Saint Valentine’s Day obsession with chocolate might appear innocent enough. However, it was the Mesoamericans like the Aztecs who first cultivated cacao from which the first chocolate came. Saint Valentine, whoever he happened to be, wouldn’t have known a cacao bean from a pinto bean. On the other hand, Xochiquetzal, Aztec goddess of love and fertility, would have known a cacao bean from a pinto bean. In fact, the Aztecs specifically associated Xochiquetzal with chocolate.

Certainly, there is a lot more to Saint Valentine’s Day than chocolate, though. There are also heart-shaped items: boxes for chocolates, cases for jewelry, and the ever-present heart-shaped candy for eating. What I find disconcerting is that none of these heart depictions ever has a body to go with it. The Aztecs along with other Mesoamericans were the world’s experts at removing the heart from the body, usually with the aid of an obsidian knife. Like the Saint Valentine’s Day candies we gobble down, so the Aztec gods gorged on hearts.

Maybe flowers, another staple of Saint Valentine’s day, should ease my fears a little. After all, a rose’s scent of innocence and allure should only bring joy. Unfortunately, I can’t forget Xochiquetzal. Our Aztec love goddess was associated with more than just chocolate. One of her titles means “Flower Princess.” Even more disturbing is that the flower wars that the Aztecs fought were not the results of florists trying to undercut each other’s prices. They were the result of both sides in the conflict agreeing to fight a limited war for the express purpose of acquiring captives to sacrifice. Forget about the Geneva Convention if you got taken prisoner in a flower war. You were going to lose your heart, literally.

Surrounded by chocolates, hearts, and flowers, I can’t help but be terrified of Saint Valentine’s Day. One of these years, I fear that the holiday is going to take my heart. The only thing that scares me more is that it won’t.

Copyright © 2005 by Byron Bailey

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