Today is Valentine’s Day. With every person I pass in the hallways and observe on the fourth floor of the sun-streaked library, I play the guessing game. Analyzing half moon smiles, pissed off glares, and various hues of pink and red, it’s pretty easy to decipher the Valentine fans from the bitter “what a stupid Hallmark holiday” characters. Dressed in dark pink, I sit here wondering: what does this socially constructed holiday mean? To me, and to the girl in the corner with the red scarf, and my roommate who made the very intentional choice to wear blue?
I’ve always loved Valentine’s day… but maybe that’s just because I love love. Or the idea of love anyway. Growing up, I came down to the kitchen table on Valentine’s day with the same feeling that reigns over Christmas morning in the living room. Waiting next to the pancakes were Valentine themed pajamas, a variety of sweet treats, sparkling heart shaped cards, and goofy Valentine’s day odds and ends from the local Walgreens. I think I loved the holiday so much because it became a family affair. Throughout elementary and middle school I planned out my rosy Valentine outfits days in advance, and perfected cards for everyone in my class. Back then, no one was left out. We didn’t know yet about the loneliness of the holiday. We were all included by classroom law: “If you get a Valentine for one person, you have to get one for everyone!” Our parents were sent class lists, and we all came home from school with hand made heart-shaped crafts and sugar highs. In the days of walking in lines and chaos at recess, we were given the positive side of this holiday–our parents reminding us of their pride and love, and the focus on friendship and schoolyard crushes.
Of course, high school exposed us to the hatred of the holiday. If you were single, it became “cool” to protest it. Glass shard glares and scowls were aimed at those love birds in the hallway–holding hands and carrying red-ribbon gifts in plain sight. The exposure of Valentine’s day as a holiday constructed by materialism and consumer America was a new trend. Valentine’s day became a day people loved to hate. It was in high school (and I suppose here in college too) that you defined yourself as a Valentin-er or strictly anti-valentine. The Valentines are steeped in optimism, much to the disgust of the antis. What does your reaction to Valentine’s Day say about your identity? As an American and as an individual? Does it say something about how you see the world? About your relationship status, and where you spend your dollar? Does it represent how you feel about consumer culture? Or merely what you want people to think you think about materialism? Probably. Every Valentine’s Day is different for every person. This year, I’m drinking it in. I appreciate the opportunity to let the people I love know that they are important to me. Of course, I don’t love them any more today that I did yesterday or than I will tomorrow, but there’s something exciting about the possibility of Valentine’s Day. I don’t need roses (which are often harmful to the environment and exploit workers when imported) to enjoy this day. I just enjoy the opportunity to be a little corny. Valentine’s Day stands on it’s own. It may have been enhanced by consumer culture, but it began as something more than that. It began as a day when a man was executed, and the last words he wrote were words of love. Morbid, but true. There’s hope yet for real meaning of the day. When I think of a truly corporate constructed holiday, I think of “Sweetest Day.” A failed attempt at forcing the country to splurge on flowers and candy to avoid the guilt of a significant other feeling neglected or ignored. I couldn’t tell you the date of that fake holiday.
Valentine’s Day might come with too many material expectations, but I think its powers can be used for good. Tell someone you love them, and cut up some red construction paper. The best Valentine’s Days are home made.