Thursday, February 14, 2008

Apologetic Cynic

My apologies are extended to anyone over the years who has fallen victim to my "Why I Hate Valentine's Day" rant.

Seriously. Let me explain. (This is a longer post, so you're warned now.)

Valentine's Day has a pretty rich history. From what I can gather from the reading I've done on the holiday (and I read and then wrote this, so I might forget stuff), it started as a Christian holiday to honor 3 different men named Valentine who were martyrs. In fact - there used to be 3 different Valentine's Days. Sometime during the medieval period and/or the Roman Empire people started to use it as a time to celebrate fertility of women. One culture used to sacrifice a goat and then slap women with it, and they welcomed this because they believed they would become fertile. It was also a time used to celebrate the beginning of bird-mating season and the coming of spring. It also became a time for courting and often times men would buy the woman of their heart's desire gifts during this time to woo her.

But then things started to change. In 1847, a woman in Worcester MA decided to make the first Valentine's Day cards and sold them in she and her father's general store. This ballooned over the next 100 or so years to more cards, chocolates, stuffed animals, and flowers. Then in the 1980's, the diamond industry started to convince the men of America that they needed to impress the ladies with jewelry too.

Somewhere along the line, a wonderful festival of love, happiness, and merrymaking became a commercially driven pressure-filled holiday. Valentine's Day became dominated with the colors of red and pink, and came in second place behind only Christmas as having the most greeting cards purchased and sent. It became a holiday filled with pressure for men to shower their ladies with gifts, and a day for people who didn't have that special someone to sit at home miserable and mow down on Ben & Jerry's. The chocolate and flower industries flourish on these days selling cliche heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and marking up bunches of roses to ridiculous margins.

All I could ever think was - Why?

When we were little kids (at least for me anyways), Valentine's Day was different. It was an opportunity to show everyone why they were special, an excuse for a classroom party. Everyone got each other little cards with their favorite super heroes or cartoon characters on them, and even the bully of the class was caught smiling. It was a day when we were encouraged to love everyone and to show everyone that they were special.

Then 7th grade happened.

In the 7th grade there were no more parties with paper bag mailboxes taped to our desks. It was the first year we were left on our own to celebrate Valentine's Day. I went to the store and found some cute little cards and lollipops to hand out to my friends. I was one of maybe 3 people who did this, and I felt dumb. All other gifts and cards that were given were between the boyfriends and girlfriends of the middle school, while the poor 12 year olds who didn't have a significant other - which were most of them - felt stupid and depressed while the other kids carried their stuffed animals and balloons around. This trend only got worse through high school, and by the time I was 15 (even though I had a boyfriend) I grew to detest the holiday. Until I was about 20, I wore black on February 14th out of protest.

Seriously I did.

As I got older, I heard some of my peers talking about how they expected their boyfriends and fiances to get them jewelry and say things like "If I don't get flowers on Valentine's Day I'll be devastated". I watched girls sit in their dorm rooms and either get drunk, cry, or be bitter. I used to drive by a flower shop to get to work when I worked in Stoneham, and from Feb. 13-15 the price of their roses skyrocketed from $12/dozen to $40/dozen. I heard stories of people who either had to wait 3 hours to be seated at a restaurant or who had to make their reservations months in advance to get dinner. I heard voices of frustration and recounts of fights because of long waits, or too much money spent, or not the right gift given. And I wanted NO part of it.

This works out for Steve because he has less pressure on him this week. But at the same time, for a while he had to suffer through my cynicism and complaining about how dumb Valentine's Day is. "I don't need Hallmark to tell me when to love you" is a standard sentence to escape my lips this time of year. Anyone who comes in my path this time of year has usually heard my standard rant, and how no I don't get or want flowers, and how no I don't get or want jewelry, etc. etc. etc.

Here's the reality: I can celebrate Valentine's Day without being a codgery old man (in attitude only) like I've been doing for the last 12 years, and I can do so without participating in the commercialism of the day. I can spread the love and encourage others to spread the love to each other. This day could mean something again. To everyone.

I can make my own cards, cookies, candies, and give them to lots of people. I can continue my tradition with Steve of a non-traditional date and gift night on Valentine's Day. I can do all sorts of things without complaining about the over-commercialization of the day and encourage other people to celebrate in different/creative ways.

I vow to start right now. Valentine's Day 2008.

And I again offer my apologies to anyone who's ever heard the "Why I Hate Valentine's Day" rant. From now on you'll only hear the "How I Work Against Commercialization of the Day" discussion. I'll also do the same for Mother's and Father's Days, because the same applies - only without the past history of hatred and instead a deep appreciation for my parents.

For More Information:
History Channel on V-Day
Hallmark Holiday


Kat said...

Yay to everything of the above. I am so with you on this Danielle.

Though the hubby and I decided not to give into the hole gift giving/card/ flower thing, he went out and bought me lovely custom jewelry. Still love it but the best part of V-day was to have him back home and spent the evening with im on the couch.

Kimberly Pye said...

Like I said yesterday, it's just like Christmas.

What I don't understand is why people get all upset about not having a Valentine's Day partner. There's no need to sit at home and mow down on Ben&Jerry's. Jewish people don't sulk at home, eating chocolate coins, while everyone else is at the office Christmas party.

Some holidays just aren't equal-rights, and that's fine.

It's her (the girl in the dorm room you wrote about) own fault if she gets all whiney and sulky if her man doesn't get her the perfect gift she expects him to figure out by reading her mind. (Girls are dumb.)

But the rest of us, we can have a grand ol' time doing whatever we want, celebrating with whatever traditions we create in our relationships!

Congratulations on your one-eighty! (I hope the day will be more enjoyable for you now.)