I am an equal-opportunity holiday celebrator. I love holidays. I love their ancient histories and how they remind us to take a look outside once in a while and see what our ancestors got excited about in the weather and the sun’s position and what the trees are doing. I’m not super keen on their commercial aspects, although sometimes I revel in those, too, just because I think they’re really interesting re-interpretations of stuff human beings have been doing for centuries.
Valentine’s Day definitely gets the most cynical bad rap of all the Western holidays for being a commercial holiday. People openly hate on Valentine’s Day more than any other holiday I can think of. Christmas at least gets some sort of holier-than-thou crown for celebrating the birth of a holy baby (who was probably actually born in September or March, but whatever) and bringing families together, and giving us a reason to drink heavily in the middle of winter, or something. Hardly anyone ever goes to bat for Valentine’s Day, though. Not even sex-positive people. Not even happily married people. And especially not single ladies like me.
But for me, I love Valentine’s Day, without apology, blaringly, with arms wide open, crappy commercialism and all.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret.
Valentine’s Day is the start of spring.
Oh, yeah, sure, I know, spring doesn’t OFFICIALLY start until the last third of March, if we’re talking astronomically. And yes, I live in a climate where “spring” comes earlier than most places in the northern hemisphere. Albuquerque warms up sometime around late February, although we can expect the occasional life-threatening snow storm to roll on through.
But I’m not talking about ambient air temperature here, or even official astronomical calendars. I’m talking about noticeable sunlight.
Once Valentine’s Day has arrived, you start to notice the growing length in the days, regardless of what part of the habitable northern hemisphere you live in. The sun has returned and is not setting before you leave your office anymore. It’s taking its sweet time to dip below the horizon. It’s actually warming the planet rather than hiding in the south for a few hours before disappearing into endless night.
For me, Valentine’s Day is the start of coming out of hibernation. For someone who’s solar powered, it’s a big deal.
I also love that Valentine’s Day is totally a celebration of a pagan holiday that has been thinly veiled by Christianity to mean something else. Having briefly studied Latin in high school, I know that what is now St. Valentine’s Day was once called Lupercalia, and was an ancient spring ritual of cleansing and, yeah, predictably, fertility. Spring is all about fertility. Our current obsession with coupling off is, I think, based on an ancient need to feel fertile — the very human drive to find a sense of renewal and regrowth and birth and making stuff with other people, whether it’s a baby or, like, civilization in general.
Fast forward several hundred (possibly thousand) years, and the Christian church takes over Lupercalia, removes all the weird stuff about wolves, and tweaks it by plopping a saint down in the middle. At least one St. Valentine (and there were several) was supposedly persecuted for performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers (who weren’t allowed to marry). It tidies up the fertility act of Lupercalia but still makes everything about Eros (sexual love) — now it’s just God-sanctioned sexual love. You can have your fertility rites and eat your God-says-it’s-okay cake, too.
Most people nod in concession when I explain that I love V-Day because it’s the start of spring, but still hate the fact that they feel singled out, literally, by the exchange of gifts and flowers supposedly taking place between affectionate couples. I like to look at it a different way. We have a whole day devoted to telling people we’ve got the hots for them. If you feel lonely and desperate on Valentine’s Day, turn it around — go make a card for someone you’ve got the hots for! Or if you feel nothing, absolutely nothing, in your loins, then find a way to appreciate people you love in ways other than the erotic. Galentine’s Day is an awesome idea! It doesn’t have to be February 13, either. You can appreciate your friends on Valentine’s Day, too.
I do think the commercial aspects are at least shadows of the former greatness of the holiday, so I don’t revile them as much as most people do. Valentine’s Day greeting cards used to be hand-made. There is a lot of joy to be had there, for sure. I have always loved taking the time to glue some magazine clippings to construction paper, toss some glitter on it, and send the resulting monstrosity off to my friends. But I also love finding the exact right, corny-as-hell, mass-produced Valentine’s Day card to give to someone, whether it came in a pack of 100 cards you have to separate at their perforated edges or stood on a Hallmark shelf by itself. I’ll chuckle to myself as I seal the envelop shut: “She is going to LOVE that Iron Man says ‘you light up my heart,’ hahahaha, you cad, you.”
Let’s put this in perspective, people. Valentine’s Day is totally worth celebrating, even if we don’t get the day off. Even if we’re single and wish we weren’t. Even if Hallmark and Jared are lining their pockets with our desperation not to feel lonely. It’s springtime. We’re a group of social animals that are capable of declaring our affection for others in our packs through means other than humping. This is awesome.
You could just do what the Ancient Romans did and sacrifice a goat and a dog and run around naked, slapping people with the skins of those sacrificed animals to ensure the fertility of the youth of your city. Or you could buy some candy-shaped conversation hearts and have a fun day with your friends while reveling in the fact that the sun has returned. I mean, your choice, I’m cool with either.