Tuesday, March 3, 2009

In (Belated) Defense of Valentine's Day

I think I can safely say that I am not overly romantic, or at least not romantic in a profoundly cliche way. I mean sure, I like Jane Austen novels and When Harry Met Sally, and I have even been known to read the occasional romance novel-- mostly after being led into temptation by regular blog reader Anna. However, when it comes to love, in general I prefer the rough and wry to the saccharine, the clear-sighted and honest to comforting and vague, and a sharp tongued aphorism to a drippy platitude. I'm not a cynic, not by a long shot, but I can safely say that if someone gave me a dozen long-stemmed roses, I'd be more likely to roll my eyes at their lack of originality than fall into their arms in wondering gratitude. And yet, I am a staunch supporter of Valentine's Day, considered by most to be the pinnacle of syrupy sweet greeting-card romance. And not only do I support it, but I think you, dear readers, should as well.

Yes, I am aware that:

a) The way it's commonly marketed is hideous.
b) The way most people celebrate it is stupid, cliched, and gross-- more about showing off/demonstrating status than actually celebrating love.
c) If you're single and unhappy about it, the lead up to the holiday can feel like a month and a half of being punched in the stomach.
d) If you're in a relationship, happy or unhappy, it can feel like a month and a half of pop quizzes you haven't done the reading for.

BUT I don't think any of the above points are intrinsic parts of the holiday itself, and I don't think any of them are grounds for valid grounds for hating THE DAY.

I know, I know. This doesn't make sense. I can hear you asking: What do you mean, Margaret? How can the DAY be okay if the way it's celebrated is hideous and it makes everyone feel unhappy, regardless of their relationship status?

Well, readers, let me explain by way of a parallel or six. Let's start with Christmas. Is it marketed hideously? Yup. Do many people celebrate it in a shitty or cliched way? Totally. All the people who are out being dicks on Valentine's Day are probably out being dicks EVERY holiday, Christmas is no exception. Is it stressful for the people who celebrate it? Yes, often almost unbearably so. And is it lonelymaking for the people who don't celebrate it? Absolutely. But on December 24th, you don't have billions of people posting on their blogs about how much Christmas blows. Nope. They're decking the halls, being merry, and finding awesome ways to celebrate the day with out a second thought for all the dicks out there who may or may not be missing the point of it.

In Almost Famous, the fact that Frances McDormand's character forces her family to celebrate Christmas on a random day in September, when she can be sure it won't be commercialized, is a sure sign that she's batshit insane. When Ebenezer Scrooge says "Humbug" to his nephew Fred, he gets harassed by ghosts until he mends his ways. And yet, every year, when millions of cool, smart, decent people opt out of Valentine's Day, we think they're not only compltely sane, but morally righteous. People who do celebrate the day appear are thought to be, at best, unoriginal and, at worst, kind of shitty jerks. Both holidays are an equally complicated amalgam of old-school Paganism, Middle Ages Christian co-opting, and modern crass commercialism, so why are they perceived so differently by right-thinking people?

I imagine this rift started because Valentine's Day celebrates something more exclusive than other holidays. Halloween, Thankgiving, Christmas, New Year's, the 4th of July-- they all have their detractors, sure, but the majority of people are not barred from celebrating them. Valentine's Day, on the other hand, is marketed almost exclusively as a holiday for couples, automatically pissing all the non-couples or unhappy couples off, and leaving the nice couples feeling more guilt-ridden than celebratory. BUT, there's no reason Valentine's Day HAS to be celebrated this way-- in fact, by a significant portion of the population, it isn't. That's right folks: I'm talking about elementary school students. Remember, back in the day, when you brought in Valentine's Day cards for everyone, and February 14th was just another excuse for seasonal decorations, themed candies, and general, all-in good fun festivities? WHY shouldn't it be that way still? Why should we let it be the exclusive territory of smug couples whose real goal in celebrating their love is making us feel bad that we don't have any?

The holiday itself is pretty neat and well-intentioned. It either marks the seasonal pairing up of birds for the spring (Paganism) or the good works of the (likely fictional) Saint Valentine, who was exectued for marrying Christian couples in violation of Roman law. Either way, it's just a day to take time and celebrate romantic love so, unless you're anti-love, you really can't complain about the holiday's stated purpose. As for how you choose to celebrate it, well, that's up to you.

If you have someone, then great, take the opportunity to celebrate them in whatever manner works best for your relationship. If that means roses and diamond rings to you, fine, but if it means staying in and watching TV together there's no harm in that either. If you don't have a significant other, there's no need to let the relentless advertisements make you think you can't celebrate, any more than you'd let them think your Christmas will only be successful if you buy their product. You can bake cupcakes for your coworkers, write notes to people who are important to you, send flowers to your mother, enjoy one of the many billions of great works of art dedicated to the subject, or simply scope out the candy aisle of your local CVS for soon-to-be-discounted seasonal candies. A holiday is whatever its participants bring to it. If Valentine's Day sucks, it's at least in part because clever, creative smarties who could celebrate the holiday with verve have instead thrown up their hands in disgust and boycotted.

And that's why I'm pro-Valentine's Day, and think you all should be too. Because it's never going to get any better if all the good people won't celebrate it. So next year, stay home in your sweats or go out in fancy togs, but whatever you do: don't dismiss the day out of hand. The only thing intrinsic to the holiday is the idea that love is important, and that taking a pause to think about it is well worth doing. So take the time and, in the gloom of a deep New England February, do something that makes you, and maybe someone else, feel a little happier and a little more special. It doesn't have to cost you a thing.


Graves said...

If your arguement was not coming multiple weeks too late, I'd commend you.

Keep this page bookmarked for next February when we're having this arguement yet again...

Cassandra Mortmain said...

Eye roll. If you need things done ON TIME you should find other people to argue with. LOGIC DOESN'T HAVE A DEADLINE!