Today is February 15th. Ostensibly an unimportant day on the calendar, just another one of those late-winter days on which there is nothing special to celebrate. February 14th on the other hand is a big deal, it is as we all know Valentine’s Day, the day set aside for excessive displays of public affection and adoration without which we would never truly believe our partners cared about us. Here’s a secret tip (actually not so secret), if you buy flowers on the 15th they are a small fraction of the cost of flowers on the 14th, also candy in heart-shaped boxes. So if you want to show your love in volume I suggest 6 dozen roses on the 15th for the same cost as 1 dozen on the 14th.
I like special days, don’t get me wrong. I think it is good to have a moment to call out something special and to say that on this particular day we are going to collectively acknowledge something important. The problem I have with some of these “special” days is that we seem to have forgotten what makes them special and what we are trying to acknowledge.
I learned recently that ‘valentine’ comes from the Middle English for drawing lots for a partner. Doesn’t sound terribly romantic but I suppose it is a functional match-making tool. And of course St. Valentinus (not his real name), a martyr to the early Christian faith who became the patron saint of lovers, not entirely sure why. So it maybe sort of makes some sense that Valentine’s Day would be a day for acknowledging your romantic partner, sometimes we do forget to do this in the hubbub and stress of everyday life so marking off a day to say, “I love you, I appreciate you, I value our relationship,” well that is a good thing.
But this year the Valentine’s displays showed up in stores the first week in January. And when my children were younger I remember the mad-dash to the craft store and the candy store to have “the best” valentines, and the best contribution to the class party because everything is a competition. There are the emails reminding you that you need to buy this candy, and those flowers, and that jewelry and let’s be frank, most of this is aimed at men buying something for their female partners to prove their love. The holiday seems to lack logic and gender parity at least as far as advertising is concerned.
Oh I know, anywhere marketers can work to create demand they do – this is part of capitalism and it is part of consumerism and making a big deal one day a year may be easier than showing up in a loving way 365 days a year. But yesterday in my yoga class at the Y, of the 25 people in the class not a one was going out or making a fuss (the yogi asked). A few were having dinner with their partner, most everyone else groaned and muttered about the meaningless consumerism of the holiday. And I think that is part of the problem with all of our “special days.” It’ s about buying something to prove something, or to make someone feel something and at least to me that feels more like we are celebrating co-dependence and consumer-stress.
It has been many years since my husband and I have made a big deal about Valentine’s day. I hate the economics of it – it just isn’t an efficient way to spend money for non-unique goods (I can get flowers every other day of the year for less), and I don’t like the pressure of “showing my love.” Hopefully I do that everyday, and when you have been married for 22 years sometimes the symbols of love are a little more practical. I know my husband appreciates it greatly if I get to the litter box first or if one of the furry creatures gacks something up I take care of it. Romantic perhaps not, but an act of love in doing those things that need to be done and that we share responsibility for – I think so.
So to the surprise acknowledgments, the card I see standing in line at the store that will be perfect and that I give that day, not on a designated card day. Or the house full of flowers when I return from a business trip, in every room a new surprise on a random Friday. I suppose the special days are good because then we don’t have to remember to be vigilant with our appreciation every day, but maybe building that habit of vigilance would be better for everyone (except Big Holiday)!