February! Beautiful, icy February. If February was a weekday, it would be Tuesday, stuck there in a wintry freeze, lurking after the delicious revelry of holidays and the proud resolve of the first 31 days of year. In the colder regions, February does not often inspire much beyond cracked fingers, templed in prayer for the warmth that comes with Spring.
The culmination of the holiday season also leaves us with a six-month stretch with few holidays to pencil into the calendar. And so I find myself unapologetically in love with the red and pink displays that fill stores during this time of year, head over heels for the frothy holiday that many write off as the over-commercialization and hyper-commodification of sentiment.
It is humorous to me that, after nearly four months of Christmas songs and a season now based in large part on gift purchases, people scoff at Valentine’s Day. Why should a holiday about loving people inspire such hostility, such animosity? Why is it easier to swallow the exploitation of theological thought, whereas one feels that to co-opt the most intimate of emotions is a personal affront: “You can tell me that Christmas requires me to spend thousands of dollars in gifts for family, friends, my doorman, and my hair stylist, but don’t presume to tell me that I need to buy chocolates to show my love for my partner!”
And another group of naysayers exists, those who view Valentine’s Day as a cruel promotion of coupledom, who seem to find that the affront lies, not in telling people how to celebrate their love for a partner, but in pointing out that they have no partner to love.
Both of these camps have it wrong. According to a quick Wiki-glance, the most popular account of “Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.” Today, when we are bombarded with shocking anti-gay statements from those who should seek to provide comfort to others, and when we fight to allow all people to have the right to make a life with whomever they choose, and to be free of persecution, this story should resonate.
According to that same entry, it was not until the High Middle Ages when the day was even associated with romantic love and, in later centuries, the day became a chance to share words of affection, treats of confection, and, of course, flowers.
But is that really so bad?
I have always loved Valentine’s Day. The years when I stuffed into over-booked, over-priced restaurants, I loved it. The years when I spent it at home watching movies with girlfriends, I loved it. The years when I was happily in love, or newly out of love, or pining for someone who would likely never receive any card from me – I have always loved it.
Because Valentine’s Day need not only be about romantic love, nor should it be. In fact, our pre-holiday Hallmark consumption indicates that it is not that at all. An estimated 190 million valentines are sent each year, with about 95 million of those being sent to family members other than a spouse (like a parent or a child). Half of the consumption, then, is spent to share our feelings of platonic or familial love! How amazing!
To generously paraphrase Shakespeare, King of Love Sonnets, if Valentine’s Day is already your holiday of love, love on! But if you have shunned this holiday in the past, I would beg you to reconsider.
Love is not solely confined to romantic love, and we should not limit the sharing of our feelings of affection to our romantic partner, when and if we choose to have one. Valentine’s Day is about sharing affection and love for all of the important people in our lives.
This year, send a love note to your best friend, write a Valentine to your sister, pen a silly sonnet for your cubicle-mate.
And to that final group of naysayers, those who scoff at Valentine’s Day with a “we should show our love to people everyday”: YES! We should share positive feelings of affection – of love – everyday. But just as Thanksgiving is not the only day of the year on which we indulge and overeat, or Mother’s or Father’s Day should not be the only day on which we show gratitude for our parents, Valentine’s Day is not the only day of year on which we appreciate the people around us.
Still, I am grateful for the opportunity to send lovely notes, to receive flowers, to wish strangers a happy something-day, and to wear red. I look good in red. If anything, it shows off my pale, dead-of-winter coloring. Which I love.