Valentine’s Day, it seems, has all the trappings of a made-up Hallmark holiday. It’s a holiday created purely to encourage us to go out and give our money to a few select industries: greeting cards, candy, roses, restaurants, etc.
As it turns out, the holiday has a history. Obviously, there’s the link to St. Valentine — but given the Catholic Church’s views on sex, why would they turn their saint’s day into a romantic night for couples? Some historians think the holiday actually dates back before Christianity to a Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia.
Others theorize that the actual St. Valentine was a hero of love, secretly performing marriages during Roman times after the Emperor forbid them. Or perhaps the link between Valentine’s Day and love — or at least sex — was solidified in the Middle Ages, thanks to the belief that February 14 marked the start of birds’ mating seasons.
These ideas almost redeem the holiday for me. I wouldn’t want to sacrifice a goat and a dog as the Romans did in their Lupercalia festivities, but I do like the notion of celebrating the time in mid-February when spring is almost upon us.
Maybe instead of engaging in ritual sacrifice, we could celebrate by eating some goat cheese and going for a walk with our dogs.
This is the time of year when chickens begin laying more eggs, gardeners begin planting seeds indoors, and farmers welcome newborn calves, kids, and lambs to their herds and flocks. This time of year, I spend hours in the chaparral seeking out wildflowers.
But that’s not how our celebration of Valentine’s Day seems to play out. Instead, we buy mountains of pink and red heart-shaped crud, loads of candy, pricey jewelry, and who knows what else.
Roses, as a symbol of the day, are particularly ridiculous, because roses don’t grow in February. At least not in most of the United States.
All in all, Valentine’s Day can be a day of pressure to “get it right” by surprising your special someone with the perfect gift and a romantic evening in which you spend a lot of money to show how much you care.
If you believe a billboard near my house, then you’re supposed to consider popping champagne and popping the question — while giving your love a diamond ring.
Why should profit-seeking corporations tell couples when and how to celebrate their love?
Celebrating one’s love is a beautiful idea, and treating your loved one to gifts or date nights ought to be more than an annual occurrence. But the value of such a gift increases with the thoughtfulness put into it. Chocolate and roses are boring and generic. They tell your sweetheart, “I didn’t do too much work to come up with this.” And if they are given out of a sense of obligation, that’s even worse.
Gifts are best when they commemorate your relationship with the person you give them to. What do you have in common? What makes your love so special? If you both love the outdoors, then planning a hike with your loved one to a hot spring could be the right way to go. Given the weather, February 14 might be the wrong day to do it.
Or you could go the opposite route and honor a part of your loved one’s personality that you don’t share in common. For years, my mom has felt frustrated with the amount of camera equipment my father — a talented photographer — takes on vacation. If she could have her wish, he’d quit the hobby altogether. So it was really an act of love when she bought him the Nikon DSLR camera he’s always wanted as a gift.
Instead of following the suggestions given by corporate marketing experts who want to celebrate your love by making big bucks this Valentine’s Day, celebrate in a way that is special to you, and do so throughout the whole year.
OtherWords columnist Jill Richardson is the author of Recipe for America: Why Our Food System Is Broken and What We Can Do to Fix It.