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Valentine’s Day: commercialised and obligatory

Image credit: www.jenningswire.com
Image credit: www.jenningswire.com
Image credit: www.jenningswire.com

Ah, Valentine’s Day – the one day a year where you’re expected to treat your S.O. with particular care and attention. You’re obliged to purchase a present at which, during any other time of year, you would probably turn up your nose. You buy a card which is either typical or satirical. You might even decide to go out for a nice meal. Because that’s what Valentine’s is about, right? Treating somebody nicely? For me, the idea that you should treat somebody who you have a romantic attachment to especially well on a specific day is very, very strange. Shouldn’t we do this every day, for the sake of itself?

I mean, I get it. Valentine’s Day is an excuse to do something nice, to be with your partner and celebrate being able to tolerate each-other, and that’s just great. But why on earth would you need that excuse? Why would you want to pander to a commercialised timespan of twenty-four hours to make your significant other feel… significant?

For a lot of people (and those who are probably older than a student publication’s immediate audience), Valentine’s Day is about breaking a temporary vow of chastity in order to check that one’s natural bodily functions still work. An ardent feminist would probably argue that that’s why Valentine’s Day has survived for so long. But what are the true origins of Valentine’s Day?

Most people probably think of St Valentine as a Cupid-like figure with golden locks and a eye for setting up potential lovers. The real St Valentine has his roots in Rome, where he was put into prison for performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers who were forbidden to take brides. The medieval age transformed celebrations of St Valentine into a reinforcement of the ideals associated with courtly love. The first mention of the 14th of February as an annual affair comes at the beginning of the 15th century at the French court of Charles VI, though even then this date is contested. St Valentine’s Day is referenced by Chaucer and Shakespeare, and this literary association lives on through the timeless Valentine’s poem. The ‘paper Valentine’ of the Victorian era ballooned into a popular industry which blatantly scars the high streets today, giving birth to the overwhelmingly red Valentine’s card. All you’ve got to do is type ‘Valentine’s Day’ into Google Images.

So, St. Valentine was hijacked by commercialism. The original image of a saint allowing people to love who they wanted through performing illegal matrimony has been constrained by the changing ideals of time, and now temporarily takes over the commercial world so that people feel obliged to partake in it. It’s not weakness on the buyer’s part, because they are investing in a tradition of humouring the existence of their relationship. People without a partner have to make plans to take their mind off of being single, and they absolutely must inform social media forums of this fact. If they don’t plan anything, they still feel as if their virtual friends would like to know. That’s the problem with Valentine’s Day – it fosters one of two reactions; smugness or self-pity. Indifference is a much better option for all involved.

It should not be forgotten that it was literature which inspired the mass celebration of St Valentine and his efforts to allow people to be joined freely with those that they loved. Even the stuffed rabbit on my windowsill, a joke Valentine’s present from my friend, has a little pun sewn into the loveheart that it’s clutching (“Somebunny Loves You.” Classic). Everything has sort of… escalated. Valentine’s Day is used to sell pretty much everything, when it began as a show of literary skill by the male suitor. Our own linguistic neglect when we say ‘Valentine’s Day’ as opposed to ‘St Valentine’s Day’ is indicative of how much the whole event has moved away from the man who first inspired it. Yes, that’s pedantic, but it’s largely true. Valentine’s Day isn’t about St Valentine anymore; it’s about a market which capitalises on affection.

Of course in many ways the modern world has simply outgrown Valentine’s Day. The celebration has its origins in strict heterosexual relationships and tows the party line of male responsibility. Men are expected to buy flowers and chocolates, and women are equally expected to be impressed by this and subsequently remove their clothes. What a very strange day – one which ever so clearly reflects the values of courtly love, except of course that the postmodern fair maiden is skipping into Ann Summers and not into the rose garden. And how do bisexual/gay couples react to Valentine’s Day? Well, I imagine they react in exactly the same way as straight couples do – they either buy into it, or they don’t.

I don’t think that Valentine’s Day should be cancelled, but I believe that a relationship should be for every day of the year. Receiving flowers on a rainy Wednesday after a rubbish day at work is far more meaningful than a guy handing you roses on the 14th of February because they pretty much have to or else they’ve transgressed the social order. At the risk of sounding like a pop-culture hating hipster, Valentine’s Day has become so mainstream that it’s now a ceremony of obligation in the place of choice.

Well, either way, hopefully you find yourself especially enamoured with the one you are enamoured with today. I for one will be listening to Thomas Ron’s subtle tones at the YUSU debate, and waiting with great anticipation for garishly packaged chocolate at 75% off.