Thursday, February 14, 2008

The silliest of holidays

Anybody who knows me knows that I am not particularly fond of Valentine's Day: I believe it is an annoying, ridiculous and contrived Hallmark Holiday. Its origins are dubious: alleged connections to the Roman festival of Lupercalia or to any number of early Christian martyrs named Valentine are tenuous at best. Its realization is insidious: it compulses those in amorous relationships to "prove" their commitment; it excludes and denigrates those who are not. And its justification is unconvincing: do we really need to set aside a specific holiday to celebrate love or romance, especially one which trivializes and commercializes these concepts to such an extreme? As Nancy Gibbs wrote in last week's issue of Time:

For many of us, though, Valentine's Day only pretends to celebrate what we like about love while actually undermining it. True romance comes unscheduled, unruly, "a madness most discreet," quoth Romeo. Overtime, as it ripens into devotion, still it improvises, a favor rendered, a sudden kiss, a private joke, flowers for no reason. Its expression is the very opposite of the fretful, "pre-order now, or be left with drugstore chocolates" connivances that the day promotes. For those who feel well loved, every day, of course, is Valentine's. For the rest, no card can console.

That's why the holiday lends itself so nicely to ridicule. Valentine's Day has inspired its own insurgency, "Singles Awareness Day," in which the unattached celebrate their solitude with a saucy "Happy SAD day." Any holiday that triggers guerrilla opposition should give us pause. "Finding the right Valentine's Day gift is probably the most difficult shopping experience in any man's life," warns which notes that unlike Christmas or birthday presents, these gifts reflect not only taste and affection "but your degree of commitment as well." Experts argue over subtexts: Is giving lingerie a turn-on or just tacky? Restaurants sweeten the menu and hike the prices; Christian websites offer valentine messages from God. You can buy a heart-shaped potato on eBay. It comes in a red box.

Anybody who has been anywhere near the Internet for the last couple of weeks has probably come upon an article (or, more likely, several) written by some "romance expert" that discusses the dos-and-don'ts of Valentine's Day gift-giving: expensive jewelry and fancy clothing is good, household appliances and cute teddy bears are bad, etc. It seems that cards, candy and flowers just aren't good enough anymore. Which makes we wonder: since when did it become necessary for you to give a big gift to your loved one on Valentine's Day? Wasn't Christmas just seven weeks ago?

The problem with Valentine's Day is that, as absurd a holiday as it is, it's also almost entirely impossible to avoid. If you are in a relationship, the chances are high that your partner takes the holiday seriously, even if you don't. If you are a parent, you are all but required to help your child prepare Valentine's Day cards the night before to pass out in class the next day. If you work in an office of any size, it's virtually inevitable that you'll get a visit from the cloyingly-cheery co-worker in the bright red sweater who passes out candies and wishes - nay, demands - that you have a Happy Valentine's Day. You have to credit the florists, confectioners and greeting card companies who manufactured this holiday for making it obligatory, such that anybody who doesn't celebrate it is seen as a dour killjoy.

Thus, I've learned to tolerate the inanity of Valentine's Day even though I fundamentally detest it. For Kirby, it means allowing him to enjoy preparing cards for his classmates or permitting him to eat some of the candy he brings home without hectoring him as to how dumb the holiday really is. For Lori, it means some fresh strawberries, a bowl of melted chocolate to dip them in, and a bottle of our favorite Brachetto d'Acqui. It's a compromise acceptable to her because it commemorates a holiday that she gives at least some meaning to and acceptable to me because of its simplicity: no fancy gift, no expensive dinner, just some quiet time with each other. Perhaps, in a perverse sort of way, my ability to put my feelings aside for a moment and to acknowledge the silliest of all holidays for my family's sake validates the supposed meaning of the holiday itself.

But I still don't like it.

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