As I get older, I see things so differently. Although I dreaded turning 50 a few (several) years back, I am now comfortably settled into my 50’s and loving the wisdom that comes with age. It seems I spent so much of my life floundering and wallowing in self doubt: wasted time.
This past week, I watched many people talk about their Valentine’s day experience, from both a giving and receiving perspective. The most interesting thing about the conversations was the ‘expectation’ involved—from people who generally expect little; almost as if they required or need to give some concrete evidence of their love.
Now, I doubt that everyone feels insecure and needs physical affirmation of love. More likely, the root of the frenzy to buy for and receive on this holiday is because it is highly publicized; a media holiday, so to speak. But the origin of Valentine’s Day is far removed from what it has become. I got the excerpt below from history.com and found it fascinating.
ORIGINS OF VALENTINE’S DAY: A PAGAN FESTIVAL IN FEBRUARY
While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial–which probably occurred around A.D. 270–others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.
To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.
VALENTINE’S DAY: A DAY OF ROMANCE
Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”–at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.
Honestly, I laughed when I read this. How did we get from a pagan fertility festival, to birds’ mating season, to helping our children write out valentines cards, “will you be my valentine?” and handing them out at school parties? Or to spouses feeling pressured into buying expensive gifts to show their love?
Okay, so you’ve probably guessed by now that I am a slacker on Valentine’s Day. The holiday just rubs me wrong. For starters, I think we should show people how much we love them every day, through words and thoughtful gestures. Maybe I can more easily say this because I’ve never been a person who likes fancy jewelry and such. If you really want to impress me, nothing says “I love you” like a cup of tea and brush my hair.
Another thing I don’t like is the pressure to buy things right after Christmas, when you’re trying to figure out how to make ends meet since you already overspent your budget. I mean, didn’t you just show someone how much you cared at Christmas? Is their memory that short?
And last of all, there is the competition aspect of Valentine’s Day. I hear people saying, “what did you get for Valentine’s Day?” back and forth, all day long…as if a bigger, more expensive gift means you are more loved. Really? And how about at school? I remember vividly that there were always one or two people that no kids wanted to give Valentines to…most likely the kids who needed love the most. And when forced to give them by their parents and teachers; it was almost like a prank. Discreet bullying, but bullying nonetheless…in a ‘holiday’ sort of way. Yuk. Brutal. I remember those days well.
I confess, when my kids were younger, I did get them a little something each year for Valentine’s Day…usually a red shirt and a frosted heart cookie, but my reason was more about not wanting them to feel unloved because their friends were getting awesome Valentine’s gifts or gift bags.
I think the thing that set me into this (somewhat) tirade, was my youngest daughter’s post on Facebook bashing her husband for simply getting up and going to work at the prescribed time without giving her a gift. Guess what, I was guilty of the same! And I assure you, it was not for lack of love, but rather lack of time. My marriage is old enough to understand that. But my daughter is barely married a year and was devastated–felt unloved. I felt so bad that she felt that way. Her husband loves her. He’s just trying to juggle having a new baby, a new marriage, and too many expectations.
I stopped at Walmart on my way home from my writing class in Bethesda at 9:50 pm to grab a card, candy, and a gift…not because I wanted to, but because my husband had dropped a card and gift in front of me as he left the house early in the morning. I rifled through the ridiculous sayings (if anyone is that over the moon in love with their spouse after a long marriage, more power to you!) and eventually found one that didn’t make me completely gag. Then, I paid $8.92 for a card (when it rang through, I was like, “wait, did that just say my card was nine dollars?!” The kid says, “oh yes, they marked them all up today.”) and another $32 on a running shirt and two bags of reeses candy…from Walmart, because it was the only place still open.
So, my husband and I wasted about a hundred bucks on random gifts, expensive cards, and candy to keep the holiday weight firmly in place. It seems like a hug, or a foot rub could have worked as well. I have no idea why we still do this—truly, it was perfunctory for both of us.
Am I being overly cynical here? Do holidays like this perhaps give us permission to not do anything the rest of the time? If there wasn’t a Valentine’s Day, would we maybe take a little more time to do something special for our loved ones more regularly, with no pressure, marketing, competition or insincerity? And without making anyone publicly feel bad for not receiving?
I’d be interested in hearing some opinions. If I’m being a scrooge, feel free to tell me so!
By the way, thanks so much to those of you who comment on my posts. I love to hear your perspectives!