Every year, as February brings a flood of jewelry commercials and preset dinner menus for two, I can’t help but look over at the box of chocolate covered strawberries I embarrassingly bought for myself and think, “perhaps this is my only comfort this time of year.”
I can already envision the photos of Russell Stover chocolate boxes and mass-produced neon pink teddy bears with heart-shaped noses that will surely hijack my Facebook newsfeed; the abundant aroma of Baby’s Breath wafting through the air that will be reason enough to stay in with the company of a horror film; and the conversation hearts that proudly declare messages I hope never come out of my mouth. Thank God (or rather St. Valentine) the day is only 24 hours long. Perhaps it is the holiday’s allegedly horrific historic beginnings or that it brings out the worst of our consumerist culture, but Valentine’s Day has never found its fit into my life.
While the exact origins of Valentine’s Day have yet to be confirmed, legends suggest that the holiday may have had bloody beginnings. According to History.com, Valentine’s Day could be traced back to the ancient Pagan mid-February festival, Lupercalia, when Romans took to sacrificing their livestock and then proceeded to publicly whip women with the leftover hides, believing it would increase a woman’s fertility.
It wasn’t until the fifth century when Pope Gelasius I declared Feb. 14 Valentine’s Day as an effort to Christianize the festival and possibly to honor the Roman priest, St. Valentine, who married young lovers behind Emperor Claudius II’s back during the third century. Legends aside, it is clear that there is little to no historic meaning left in the modern-day version of Valentine’s Day, which instead emphasizes candy and card consumerism.
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an average of $126 each, totaling over $17 billion for the population, on the holiday and on something that’s supposed to be priceless: love.
On New Year’s Eve, there’s an inevitable pressure to have the coolest plans, the trendiest outfit and the steamiest New Year’s kiss because we’ve convinced ourselves that the way we spend New Year’s Eve is the way we’ll spend the rest of the year. This mind-set has seeped through January and into February, as we think of Valentine’s Day as the day that sets the tone for the rest of a relationship, whether it’s five dates or five years in. From Hallmark to Victoria’s Secret, there’s not a retailer in this country that won’t try to take advantage of the pressure people feel to shower their sweetheart with superficial love.
The shallow stereotype of Valentine’s Day was baked into our early childhood just like the heart-shaped brownies the PTA moms brought to class. Consider for a moment your elementary school days when Valentine’s Day was not known as a day of love, but instead as one of the rare days that candy wouldn’t be confiscated. It was always the homemade valentines in the basket that got overlooked — that is unless, of course, they came with homemade candy, or better yet, fun-size Snickers bars.
I can’t recall a single time from my elementary school days of looking at a valentine from a classmate and thinking, “Wow, this message is really thoughtful.” It’s no surprise that as adults, we’ve continued the tradition of translating love into desserts and dispensable gifts. As it turns out, nobody cares if you wear your heart on your sleeve unless it’s made of cashmere. It’s easy to assume that the average Valentine’s Day hater must also hate love, but it is the so-called haters that support and believe in love the most; not a princess-cut love set in a platinum band, but a euphoric feeling that no material item could ever replicate. Not everyone who hates Valentine’s Day is a bitter-because-they’re-alone castaway, but perhaps just a person who is more concerned with the message inside the bottle, rather than with what the bottle looks like and whether they can get one of their own at Pottery Barn.
Printed on Friday, February 10, 2012 as: Consumerism plagues Valentine's Day