Cue the fuchsia, the roses, the heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and candies and themed teddy bears. Strike up the jewelry store sales and advertisements, the feverish restaurant frenzy and commercial hoard. As is modern day mercantile tradition, when the opportunity strikes, holiday spectacle intercedes a furious greed. We, the shopper, the consumer, in typical fashion, stuff ourselves sick with Valentine’s Day commercialism in a frantic tender to qualify ourselves with “things” and “doing.” The puppeteers of industry, pulling strings, move hastily and with purpose. They line their pockets with as much holiday gold as they can muster. And so we revisit a familiar Valentine’s montage year in and year out: everyone trying to capitalize on the aftermath of Christmas climax in a bid to escape the post coital tristesse of the New Year. The grace period given between Christmas and the advent of Valentine’s is all but non existent. While shops and store fronts remove Christmas trees, holiday lights and tinsel, pink and red hearts are carted in to swiftly replace them. It’s hard not to grimace. Not to turn away and focus on a solitary point somewhere beyond the blur of mulberry. This unfolding cyclic procession is draped in synthetic livery, like the bitter aftertaste one gets after consuming Pepsi White. It leaves you with a metallic tongue, as if you just sucked on a quarter – (a quarter with lots of lovely heart shapes loitering its head and tail). Why do we always have to turn something beautiful into something so ugly? Perhaps more poignant is our authentic vivacious love for the ugly. Why are we attracted to the manufactured devolution of meaning? It’s clear that part of our nature demands a certain amount of kitsch. We need the shiny wrapping paper, the bows, the pomp and circumstance, the cartoonish caricature of life. Holiday commercialism, as a kind of philosophical, emotive narcotic, helps to ease our suffering within the narrow boundaries of its own religion. For a brief moment in time, it reduces the impossible proportions of reality into small, manageable pieces. The “high” we get from holiday commercialism endeavors to condense all that we don’t know into something we think we can comprehend. But isn’t there something more subtle, more sensitive and thoughtful to behold on Valentine’s and during other commercial holidays a part from the proselyting malarky? Something less cynical, less fabricated and more organic?
No one denies the importance of celebration and festivity. For as long as human beings have been present in the world’s consciousness there has been occasion for revelry. Human awareness has been and continues to be made manifest by the celebration of life as it is experienced by us: the movement of moments, the rites of passage, the marking of time, the evolution, the progression. Within the arch of our journey that take us up over the rainbow and beyond, we remember and we reflect. These observations of past, present and future, have been our way of adapting and configuring the world without to fit comfortably in a world within. Historically, St. Valentine’s Day takes root in liturgical celebration, coined after one or more early Christian saints, Valentinus. Despite there being numerous Christian martyrs by that name, the Valentine’s Day we celebrate today commiserates more specifically, Valentine of Rome, a martyr priest, buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14th, AD 496. The site, along with the date, February 14th, remained an important day of pilgrimage throughout the Middle Ages in celebration of sacrifice. However when poet and writer, Geoffrey Chaucer emerged on the literary scene in the High Medieval Period, fanciful association by poetic meter converted Valentine’s Day into romantic alchemy, propagating the then, current tradition of courtly love. Many poets and writers were quick to follow suit, denoting the mating of birds and love with St. Valentine’s Day. The earliest description of February 14th as an annual celebration of love, appears in the Charter of the Court of Love, at the turn of the 15th century. Allegedly issued by Charles VI of France, the charter illustrates lavish festivities to be attended by several members of the royal court, including a feast, romantic song and poetry competitions, and jousting and dancing. By the 18th century, circulated published works had captivated British audiences with scores of suggestive sentimentality, while “Mechanical Valentines” were being printed in limited number as cards, transcribing romantic and provocative thoughts and sketches. These “Mechanical Valentines,” so appropriately named, foreshadowed a mid-19th century Valentine’s Day trade, which heralded the proliferation of commercialized holidays in North America that were soon to follow.
So what do take from the history of Valentine’s Day? An evolution of love and sacrifice played out throughout the centuries in our churches, our royal courts, our literature and our homes. A need to celebrate and reflect – to rejoice in the bounty of friendship and connection that love gives us, and to pay respect to the determination and sacrifice that is required of us when we love. Amorphous and sometimes vague in all it’s glaring clarity, love assumes any shape we assign to it – be it a rose or heart-shaped box or teddy bears clad in pink and red, its meaning is transcribed in thought and being that presupposes any material “thing.” Not just reserved for lovers alone, Valentine’s transcends all manners of love – the love of a pet, the love of our children, our country, our mothers and fathers…our families. So rather than be shameful of its habit, why not revel in its glory, and take heart to honor Valentine culture and meaning as we should do with other holiday traditions. Regardless of whether or not the commercialism of any holiday is warranted, it is important we are aware of its purpose and make informed choices through insight. Consciously controlling the flow of commercial superfluousness as something that enhances rather than defines, we can take joy and satisfaction in its gimmick. Whether we’ve planned that luxurious weekend getaway, or dinner for two or four, or simply choose to sit in one another’s company and share a laugh and good cheer, on February 14th, we have the opportunity to pause and reflect, and to honour our love.