It's often said that Valentine's Day is simply another holiday created by greeting card companies in order to make more money. Based on that premise, why do we need the holiday? It makes single people feel obliged to find something to do to avoid the inevitable negative feeling associated with being alone on a day reserved for lovers, it makes those in a relationship feel pressure to go "over the top" and make sure that their S.O. gets as much material objects to symbolize a celebration of their love as possible, and usually the female identifying partner in the relationship is the one who is either spoiled or feels left out if their celebration doesn't seem to stack up to their friends or peers. So, is there true merit in celebrating love on Valentine's day if there are so many reasons that a large percentage of the population simply wants to either avoid or forget it?
Historically, Valentine's Day isn't simply a greeting card holiday, even though for some loved ones it functions that way. Valentine's Day is actually based on the Roman festival called the Feast of Lupercalia. February 14th was set aside in Rome to honor Juno who was the Queen of Roman Gods and Goddesses, and was considered the goddess of women and marriage. On the following day, the Feast of Lupercalia took place to honor the Gods Lupercus and Faunus. During the festival of Lupercalia, young boys and girls were paired together through the random selection by the boys of a Roman girl's name from a jar. Sometimes, these couples would remain paired until the next year's festival and often they fell in love and got married. Eventually, the festival was ended as it became to be thought of as not Christian. Doesn't this sound romantic? Yet, in a modern context I feel skeptical of how well this would work out. In Rome, the boys and girls were typically separated much of the time, but in our time young men and women constantly comingle so that we usually already know who we think we will be compatible with. However, this does serve as an example that Valentine's Day is originally a day for worship of a powerful female image and a celebration of Roman love.
The name "Valentine's Day" comes from the semi-known martyr Saint Valentine or Valentinus. The story that the legend is based on varies. It is said that Valentine was named a saint after he was beaten and tortured by Emperor Claudius II for secretly marrying couples after the Emperor outlawed marriages and engagements based on low soldier recruitment. Valentine was killed on February 14th, 270 A.D. Another version of the legend states that Valentine or Valentinus fell in love with a jailer's daughter who visited him during his imprisonment. Before his death, Valentinus wrote a letter to his beloved that he signed: "From Your Valentine". That is said to be the origin of the popular phrase.
By the Middle Ages, Valentine was widely considered a hero and as Christianity spread through Rome, Lupercalia was moved from February 15th to the 14th. Just before 500 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared Feb. 14th St. Valentine's Day to honor the martyr and veer away from paganism. The Book of Love, a collection compiled and edited by Susan Goldman Rubin--that I received as a wedding gift from my mother-in-law-- reports that the first known Valentine's Day card was sent by Charles, the Duke of Orleans in 1415 when he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. The note to his wife is on display at the British museum. The Book of Love also states that in 19th century England older couples were engaged by an exchange of Valentine's. I find that to be a romantic fact, especially because Valentines from centuries ago functioned more as love letters than obligatory roses and bears do.
It was also believed in the Middle Ages that birds started mating on Feb. 14th which further added to the legend of St. Valentine, Lupercalia, and the now universally accepted celebration of not only romantic love, but love of all kinds. In spite of the negative association many adults have with a lack of romantic love on the 14th, children more often feel the unconditional love from their parents shown on Valentine's Day, as well as showing platonic love for family and friends, and showing appreciative love for classmates. We all remember that right, buying the little cards that are usually cartoon or kid celebrity themed? We might include little candies with them, and there were usually little bags or boxes on each student's desk that we would drop their cards into. This practice still has an obligatory aspect, as social pressure that often causes us as adults and even teenagers to feel we must be in some sort of romantic interaction based on the consumption customs based around the holiday. However, this is a sweet tradition that makes elementary school children feel special--especially when the gifts come from their parents.
It's constantly hard for single adults today to tell when someone's feelings are real, because communication has not universally carried over into this generation. But, that's no reason to entirely forget Valentine's Day. I would like to do away with the obligation...the stereotypical bouquet of roses and chocolates for June from Ward Cleaver--millennial lovers may not get that reference; substitute...Melania from Donald? Any modern example of a seemingly loveless marriage and an obligatory holiday gift to appease the wife--. It demeans real love, real loving relationships. I don't have anything against Valentine's Day. I love it. My husband and I had a wonderful date.
We went out to eat and wrote each other love letters detailing our feelings just after our 6th month wedding anniversary has passed on the 4th. It's been our tradition on our anniversary for almost 4 years, and the 3rd year our vows were our letters. But that's my husband and I. I understand that others are at different points in their lives, but does it have to be inevitable to place such weight on a simple holiday? It's a tradition for a variety of reasons based in religions such as paganism and Christianity--the same reason Christmas is now a holiday more known for its customs in consumption than religious ritual--so, what's the big deal really? Maybe this sounds easier said than done coming from someone in a happy committed and eternal relationship, but let's try to abandon the archaic aspects of Valentine's Day.
Let's try to progress society and rid ourselves of the sexism associated with making Valentine's Day simply "a woman's holiday". Make it about both of you if you're in a relationship and try to move beyond the obsession with having something to distract yourself on the 14th, as if there aren't bigger things to be distracting ourselves from. It's depressing and unnecessary to be blunt. We aren't in the 90s, this isn't Rachel from Friends or Carrie and Charlotte from Sex and the City talking about why they need a guy. No one needs a partner, sure there's societal pressures, but do not let the lack of a romantic partner get in the way of simply living your life. It's one day. Let's give it the right kind of meeting. To celebrate love of all kinds, and nothing else.