Monday, 15 February 2010

Day of Love

Nine years ago I was working at a Missouri newspaper, and was asked to interview some people around town for one of those standard feature stories on Valentine's Day. I've never been a fan of Valentine's Day myself; I don't think it's a coincidence that it, and many other holidays, became gift-giving rituals in the last few decades, when everyone was urged to spend.

So I tried to be a little more balanced than the usual articles I saw. I observed that there were actually three saints named Valentine, and sources disagree on which one supposedly inspired the holiday. I not only interviewed local people who were making elaborate plans -- one man was buying his girlfriend a bouquet of flowers whose names began with the first letter of the girlfriend's name -- but also a man who said he didn't observe it.

"I try to be nice to her every day, not just on this one day," [he] said.

Finally, I called Kalle Lasn of Adbusters magazine to talk about why Valentine's Day has become so massive in recent years -- the biggest card holiday of the year, passing Mother's Day and Christmas. We talked about how people used to observe holidays in a much more personal and modest way before the energy window, and how even our idea of romantic love is a product of the consumerist age.

Unfortunately, that last part was probably pushing it, and was cut for publication.


lagedargent said...

Hi Brian,
>> even our idea of romantic love is a product of the consumerist age... <<
I think you should elaborate on that. Did you think of "Paradise by the dashboard light", for instance?

Kim said...

I agree that Valentine's Day is way-commercialized, but then so are other holidays (Christmas, Easter, birthdays). I guess that what's more specific to Valentine's Day is the implication that if your significant other doesn't adequately celebrate "you" that day, it means that somehow YOU are lacking.

I like the way that Ms. Lemming celebrated it on the TV show "30 Rock" - by scheduling oral surgery.

Hey, this is my first ever blog posting!

Brian M. said...

Because its so unclear just which if any of the ancient saints Valentines is supposed to be about, I've often had the romantic conceit that it started as veneration of Valentinius, one of the great Gnostic teachers of Rome, and later it was recast as about an orthodox saint.

One of the ladies at my church used to have a huge collection of Valentine's Cards, (before they were destroyed in a flood) that she would take to schools and use as history lessons, showing how the trends in the cards have changed over the centuries and decades. I hadn't understood how much card trading their was in the 19th century for example. Or about vinegar verse. It used to be normal to send mean-spirited valentine's cards to people you had a grudge against as well as pleasant ones you were especially fond of.

Brian Kaller said...


This is a thought that deserves a lot more space, but as recently as a hundred years ago it seems like people had different expectations of love and marriage. Within the energy needle, though, Hollywood and other cultural influences have encouraged people to think of relationships as based on a kind of adolescent love that is expected to last a lifetime.

Yes, I'm always suspicious of holidays that are based on buying things, and even more so holidays that make you question your own worth.

I hadn't heard of vinegar verses -- that sounds like a tradition I don't want to revive. Your theory about Valentinius sounds as good a theory as any to me.