As with most of our Judeo-Christian rituals, Valentine’s day was originally a Pagan observance. Deemed unholy, the February agricultural celebration was rebranded by a group of Roman priests. In the late 19th Century, mass produced American Valentine’s sentiments started to make their rounds. Today it’s the second biggest greeting card holiday after Christmas (that other observance with no Pagan roots whatsoever).
Reasons to dislike Valentine’s day are well articulated. Restaurants charge double for food that’s generally less good; servers are harried. Big box chain stores clean up. Rational people ransack the joints, and leave with packages of third world manufactured festivity supplies that will tomorrow find their way to third world landfills. Sentiments, probably born in some gray cubicle, are expressed in cards written by someone else, somewhere else. It’s unsexy as hell.
My reasons to politely (or impolitely) abstain are varied. I figure, if we’re doing it right, we shouldn’t need Valentine’s Day. Our husbands and wives and partners and lovers should remember us, and we should remember them. Every day can’t be love day, but when we’re feeling it, we should express it. We should be making one another feel loved regularly, throughout the year. And we shouldn’t need tissue-paper trifles or waxy chocolates to drive it home.
This morning, as my man was readying to leave, he shot a cursory, “Happy Valentine’s Day” my way. I said, “Are you sad I don’t do this day?” (For whomever’s counting, it’s our 7th unobserved.) “Nah,” he said. “I’m used to it. I think you’re onto something. What with the whole, don’t tell me when and how I’m supposed to express or celebrate our love thing.”
I think I’m onto something, too, but there’s more. There’s the bit about how shopping plays into this, and all American holidays. I don’t expect anyone to stop celebrating Valentine’s Day. I don’t expect anyone to stop shopping entirely. I do think that we can ratchet up our awareness a bit. I think we’ve lost sight of our own behaviors. Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to shine some light.
In general, I believe so strongly that we can be happier and healthier if we have a greater awareness of the ways in which capitalism is seamlessly integrated into our sense of worth. I think we should hone our awareness of how things like “purchasing” and “owning” and “having” make us feel. At Christmas, shopping = family. At birthdays, shopping = celebration. I love to shop. I really do. Sometimes when I’m blue, a little trip for something new actually does lift my spirits. So I get it. I’m who I am, so I moderate the shit out of those impulses, but I get it.
Buying, in most areas of our lives, helps to define our sense of success. Today, it defines the most basic of all human impulses: how loved we do or do not feel. At Valentine’s Day, shopping and purchasing = love itself, and I think that’s a sad story. The machine of our culture is bigger than all of us. The most powerful weapon we have to change things is awareness. We have an obligation to look at how we’re affected by the world around us, and an equal obligation to temper our own behaviors accordingly.