February the 14th is a bit like marmite – you either love it or you hate it. And I hate it. It’s not because I’m bitter and cynical, but because I realise it is a day which has become commercialised and benefits the card industry more than loved up couples and swooning sweethearts. Who needs a white teddy bear holding a felt heart balloon anyway?
My vendetta on Valentine’s Day begins with a little awareness of its historical relevance. I’ll bet that many don’t even know where it comes from and why we celebrate it anyway. I’ll bet that all those soppy idiots spending their wage packet on overpriced gimmicks and cards are not even aware of the tradition and historical relevance of February 14th. As with many public holidays, the traditions are jumbled and have come from a distant past. People believe that February 14th was the day that Saint Valentine was executed for performing marriages, back in the 2nd century AD, when Romans persecuted Christians and Christian ceremonies such as this were forbidden. St. Valentine strongly believed in love and marriage as a holy state, and went against the government in Rome. He was caught performing a marriage and was then imprisoned and beheaded. This gruesome ancient tale is all very well and good, but what relevance does it bear to Valentine’s Day as we know it? It is said that St Valentine met the jailor’s daughter when he was imprisoned, and miraculously healed her blindness. He then supposedly wrote her a farewell message signed, “From your Valentine”.
The history and stories surrounding this day are quite obscure, and references to this tale are relatively recent. Some others believe that Valentine’s Day was associated with this date as it supersedes the pagan Roman holiday ‘Lupercalia’, where boys drew the names of girls to become their partner for the feast and dance. Increasingly, the holiday has been associated with sending ‘Valentines’, and exchanging gifts. Since the 19th century, traditional handwritten valentines have given way to mass-produced greeting cards – far less romantic and spontaneous if you ask me…
These mass produced cards are not original or spontaneous like the old handmade, personal Valentines, but this manufactured affection seems to provide society with expectations and just feeds into the pocket of commercial giants and the card industry. Perhaps this sickening holiday should be renamed ‘Clinton’s Day’ or even ‘Moonpig Day’… Statistically, 85% of the 1 billion cards that are sent each year are purchased by women, and 1 in 5 British men would happily send a text to their loved one on Valentine’s Day rather than a card. If this technological form of communication is a representation of their love and affection, the effort of pressing ‘send’ rather than making and writing a Valentine doesn’t measure up to much. But it is not just cards for loved ones we’re talking here – oh no. Increasingly, cards are sold for grandparents, parents, teachers, single friends and even pets! 3% of pet owners give their animals a card on Valentine’s Day, perhaps reading something like, “Roses are red, violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, Fluffy I love you”. I am sure Fluffy would be content and aware of her owners love with a bowl of whiskers and a nice place to sleep. Ridiculous.
It is not just the card industry that benefits from this holiday, but a variety of other industries also sell products and services, fuelling the sense of expectation. 15 million e-valentines were sent in 2010, florists cackle with gratitude as their pockets fill with cash and restaurant owners delight as desperate devotees haggle for their best table. This sense of expectation is neither spontaneous nor romantic, as what’s romantic about buying a generic card, a standard bunch of overpriced roses and an ordinary box of chocolates? Surely it’s more romantic to be unique and individual about the way you schmooze the one you love. Increasingly, more industries and shops are jumping on the bandwagon of selling Valentine’s Day products; in the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine’s Day as an occasion for giving jewelry. Celebrities who have fallen for this and are known to have popped the question on February 14th include Simon Cowell, Harrison Ford and Vince Vaughn. Refreshingly, in clear opposition, include Ashton Kutcher who said “I hate Valentine’s. Every day should be a day of romance. Then, on Valentine’s Day, you should get to tell whoever you hate that you can’t stand them.” Hear, hear.
My grounds for holding these ‘anti-Valentine’s’ beliefs are supported by many, and is formally recognised as’ Antivalentinism’. These criticisms of Valentine’s Day fall in to two categories; one of which is anti-consumerist as I have discussed, the other objects to the ‘forced’ observation of romantic love. ‘Anti-Valentine’ Cards have also become increasingly popular with messages such as: “Happy Unimaginative, Commercialism Driven, Poor Definition of Romance Day” and “I’m in love with someone and it’s not you”. Some people also hold anti-Valentine’s celebrations on February 14th, to celebrate their singledom and freedom. The scene in US hit film ‘Valentine’s Day’ of 2010 springs to mind, with single women bashing piñatas and drinking cocktails with girlfriends, which sounds preferable to sitting in a crowded restaurant with hundreds of other soppy couples eating overpriced food and staring into each other’s eyes.
Why can’t you say I love you on 364 other days of the year – surely that would be a bit more spontaneous and believable? Every day should be romantic, and this day simply plays upon our romantic insecurities and gives us high expectations. Making romance mandatory simply puts pressure on relationships. I’m not cynical or bitter, I just know what love looks like, and it doesn’t come in a tacky, overpriced heart shaped box.