St. Valentine’s Day: A Bitter-Sweet Holiday

Can you believe how fast January flew by? It was the first day of classes like yesterday! I hope you all are staying warm, what with the -40 degree weather outside. And you know what, I can take the cold too. It’s the ice that catches me off guard. One second I’m walking on the sidewalk, the next I’m eating it. If anyone asks, that did not happen.  Watch your step out there and take a few pointers from your favourite penguin. That waddle will save you, my friends. Anyway…

It is February, and you know what that means! Valentine’s Day is going to hit us like a brick before we even know it. Before you dismiss my editorial as another one of those pieces drenched in romanticism over the pink in the air, the warmth in a shared pocket, and the two-can-eat dessert, well, think again! Did you really think an outspoken, opinionated, and (sometimes) unapologetic girl like me will condone the practices of the day of St. Valentine?

Let’s step back and dive into the history of this holiday. Who was St. Valentine and why are we celebrating him? Well, to give you the short answer, I don’t know. There are over three saints recognized by the Catholic Church who were named Valentine or Valentinus, and they were all martyred. The legend of St. Valentine goes something like this: in ancient Rome, Emperor Claudius II, deciding that single men made better soldiers than men with families, ruled out marriage for young men. Valentine, a priest, realizing how unjust this was, started performing marriages for young lovers secretly. Obviously, Claudius found out and ordered Valentine be killed. Quite a tragic story, if you ask me. Why must people die over love?

Another legend says that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to “Christianize” the Pagan celebration of Lupercalia. What is Lupercalia? Glad you asked. In ancient Rome (those Romans, I tell you), members of the Lupercai, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave and sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. They would make strips out of the goat hide, dunk it in the pure blood, and slap women and crops with the hide. Women would line up to get slapped with the hide because they believed it made them more fertile. Then they would place their names in an urn and, like a lottery, men would draw names from it. The new couples would stay together for the remainder of Lupercalia, and often get married after. How romantic!

So here is my take on Valentine’s Day. I am not against it. I really do believe in being able to choose what you celebrate. However, this one is for those who are not celebrating this day. We all need that extra support when all we see is annoyingly happy twosomes around us. This is also for the annoyingly happy twosomes who are not celebrating the day of love out of pure choice (or other reasons). I hear you, and I support you.

The fondest memory I have of Valentine’s Day is when, for his own birthday which falls on Valentine’s Day, my grandfather bought my mom, his daughter-in-law, a Valentine’s Day present. I found it beautiful, and it reiterated this thought: Valentine’s Day is not just for couples. It is just a day for love, be it any kind. Like, when I was working at WatPD for a co-op, we gave each other Valentine’s Day cards and candy to show our appreciation. One of my friends also buys her parents presents for Valentine’s Day and I think that is super cute. Love is a beautiful emotion and it comes in many shapes and forms.

However, with all this celebration, this day also brings a lot of expectation. We expect presents from each other. Those of us in relationships expect dates and boxed appreciation. While presents and gestures are a beautiful way of expressing love, sometimes our expectations can be a little misguided. For example, I once had a friend ask me how much she should spend on a Valentine’s Day present for her partner considering what they got her for her birthday. Honestly, I did not have an answer! How does it matter? I thought presents were about meaning and appreciation. How do you put a price on meaning?

This brings me to my point about Valentine’s Day being an expensive holiday. Didn’t Christmas just go by? Didn’t we just spend all our money on presents for everyone we know? Honestly, if you are celebrating this holiday, just undertake a DIY project, because how else are you funding it? Use Friends as a guideline: borrow your friend’s sock bunny to gift to your partner, or re-gift the mix-tape your ex made you.

So here are a few things you can do instead of celebrating the holiday the old-fashioned way:

Start a new TV show. Alone. By yourself. The benefits of doing this are two-fold. First, you won’t feel guilty about watching the TV show without your partner, as most couples do. I think Urban Dictionary calls it television cheating. Second, you can watch a TV show that a potential partner might never watch with you. You think your boyfriend will ever watch Gilmore Girls with you? Think again!

Learn how to cook for yourself. Okay, let’s be real, you won’t learn how to cook in a day. But come next Valentine’s Day, you will be so prepared!

Go to that expensive restaurant. Again, alone. It’s what you would have done if you were with someone, except now you are only paying for one. Eat up!

Go to that expensive restaurant with your friends. Split the bill, and you are still only paying for one. Eat up!

Go to the mall and buy yourself presents. Go to the mall and window shop.

Go grocery shopping! Everyone is busy with their plans. Walmart will be empty, and you get dibs on all the fresh stuff. Also, how cool is it when you go to the grocery store and the aisles are empty? It’s like being teleported to another dimension.

Catch up on studying while everyone else goes out to party. Or, you know, watch TV. Go revisit my point about television cheating. I’ll wait.

Do nothing. It’s just a regular day. The holiday does not apply to you. Wait, holiday? What holiday?

Jokes aside, believe that you are worth so much more than you give yourself credit for. While mainstream media propagates love as this enchanting feeling, know that you deserve so much better. Media and I have a weird relationship, in the sense that I do not agree with much of it. The idea of love is very prevalent and impossible to shake off in most consumable media. Growing up in a culture very influenced by Bollywood, I saw myself as a piece that fits in someone else’s puzzle. Like when the heroine in movies only plays the protagonist’s love interest. It took me a while to realize all things wrong with this. I wish we could be more vocal about this. I wish all the media that I consumed as a kid did not tell me that I did not deserve my own story.

While Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love, and there is nothing wrong with that, there are so many ways the world celebrates love. Let’s expand our horizons, and maybe pick our favourites along the way. Here are some of mine:

In the Hindu culture, we have the God of human love called Kamadeva. To celebrate him, every spring we go out on the streets with colours and water and throw it at each other. We have water balloon fights and eat ridiculous amounts of food all in the name of this one God. Isn’t that a much more engaging way to celebrate love? Everyone is welcome to play! There is music, there is food, and there is more colour than you can imagine. Pink is literally in the air.

In South Korea, on Valentine’s Day women buy men chocolates, and men do the same on March 14th. For all the singles out there, on April 14th, they celebrate “Black Day”. On this day, everyone who has not been included in the February 14th and March 14th celebrations, goes out to eat black bean paste noodles, and they even compete in speed eating competitions! It is right up my alley if I am being honest.

In Finland, on February 14th, Friend’s Day is celebrated. It is an attempt at making Valentine’s Day more inclusive so that no one feels left out. People still exchange candies and cards, but the norm is to exchange only pink roses, not the red ones. Can we do that here too, please?

So, my point is, while Valentine’s Day can feel somewhat lonely, you can still celebrate it (or not) in any way you like. How do you plan on celebrating Valentine’s Day? Let me know by emailing me at iwarrior@uwaterloo.ca.

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