Bundles of red roses. Packaged boxes of rich chocolate. Fancy, embellished cards filled with sweet nothings. Expensive gifts ranging from glittering jewelry to glamorous get-aways. That’s what comes to mind for a lot of us when we think of Valentine’s Day. This image is only further perpetuated by mainstream media and people’s need to show off their joy and exciting plans every February 14th. Obligatory consumerism, many people would claim. Valentine’s Day is nothing but a money-grab, lazily disguised by paper pink hearts.
The monetization and innate performatism of Valentine’s Day is no secret to most of us, especially as a sort of exclusivity has developed for who gets to participate in this classic holiday. However, beneath all the pretty but plastic tokens of affection and the ostentatious displays of love that look grand on Instagram but ring hollow in reality, Valentine’s Day might not be so bad.
There are inconsistencies regarding the origins of Valentine’s Day, originally known and named St. Valentine’s Day, but the most common story revolves around Valentine, a priest who served during the third century in ancient Rome. It is said that when Emperor Claudius II forbade marriage for young men, deducing that single men made better soldiers than those with families, Valentine immediately saw the injustice of the decree and continued to marry couples in secret. This tale of prevailing love is certainly a sentiment that many of us can resonate with, even if the holiday has since far outgrown those humble beginnings.
Another possible origin of the holiday is the Pagan holiday Lupercalia which was usually celebrated on February 15th. Lupercalia was a fertility holiday dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as Roman founders, Romulus and Remus. A common practice involved young women of the city placing their names in an urn for bachelors to choose from, creating a pair that would be matched for the following year. These “blind dates” of sorts often ended in marriage.
Whatever the true origins of Valentine’s Day may be, the holiday as we know it now established itself closer to the 1840s with the rise of commercially produced Valentine’s Day cards and the accompanying concept of valentines. Today, Valentine’s Day is known as a holiday to celebrate romantic love, where couples exchange gifts and classic cards. It’s a holiday that may mean excitement to those that have someone to celebrate it with… and loneliness for those who don’t.
However, although Valentine’s Day is tied to the idea of romance and dating, the holiday at its core has always been about one thing, and that’s love. Humans don’t just experience one type of love, and therefore Valentine’s Day is not and should never be restricted to just romantic love. There’s the love we have for our friends, for our family, and heck, even ourselves. Those variations of love are just as valid and just as fulfilling as romantic love, so I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t want to celebrate them too. On the surface, Valentine’s Day may seem contrived and overrated, but the point of the holiday has always been recognizing and spending time with loved ones. Material items like cards and chocolates may come across as shallow, but the very purpose of these things has always been to show appreciation and affection. Of course, you can do that without spending ridiculous amounts of money–hand-made cards and quality time are just as efficient at communicating love as any other Valentine’s Day plan.
Beyond the initial ideas of consumerism or exclusivity, Valentine’s Day is honestly kind of nice. It’s also arguably the most human holiday in existence. After all, what is more human than love: loving others and being loved in return? Forget everything else, that is all that matters–not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day of our lives.
So this February 14th, instead of worrying yourself too much about big, fancy plans or feeling lonely and inadequate because you don’t have a romantic partner to celebrate with, remember what Valentine’s Day is really about. Tell your loved ones–whoever they may be–that you love them and spend some quality time with them. Practice some self-love, because that’s probably the form of love that is neglected the most. Remember that you are loved. It is a beautiful thing.