Considering the consumerism and stress, Wendy Grace asks should we bother celebrating Valentine’s Day
Flowers, tacky gifts, pressure? Are these the thoughts that are conjured up when you think of Valentine’s Day?
It is commonly thought that Valentine’s Day is a holiday dreamed up by companies to boost consumer spending. The push for consumerism around this day has certainly done the trick. Last year, in the United Sates alone, customers spent €13.5 billion (yes billion) on Valentines Day. The average American forked out €95 on cards, jewelry and chocolates. Men spend twice as much as women, with single men spending more than their married counterparts. In 2012 Irish people were no different to our friends in the States. In 2012 we spent 9.4% more than the previous year on Valentine's Day gifts, with an average spend of €100.
With all that cash being splashed around for the day, whether you like it or not it is pretty hard to avoid the ‘in your face’ commercialism of the day. For those in relationships, of course, it can be a chance to re-affirm your love to one another, but, in my experience, it simply can just be another commercial opportunity topressuriseyour other half into buying unnecessary gifts, or taking you out for an overpriced dinner. It can also be like your birthday or New Year’s Eve where, in relationships, it is used as another way of judging the state of your relationship.
For those who are single, Valentine's Day can trigger feelings of loneliness. We have all been there; images of happy couples that seem to be bombarded at you, constantly noticing couples hand in hand seems to be heightened around the date itself. On this day, and every other day, it is important to say, a person's worth should never be defined by their relationship status. So much pressure is put on romantic relationships, but if the day is about love, why should it be only be about ‘loved up’ couples. Surely it should be about expressing love to all friends and family in your life that you care about.
Whether you’re single or in a relationship, Valentine's Day can cause a lot of stress, so why bother? Or perhaps the question should be how much should you bother? Even when I was in school, boyfriends would have lavish gifts and flowers delivered to the classroom; it was more of a competition rather than a declaration of love. There is, of course, a difference between sending a lovely card and putting yourself under pressure to fork out on gifts and a fancy meal.
Later on in life, various desks around my office would be dotted with flowers. In this type of situation being single can be tough.
Perhaps Valentine's Day shouldn't feel any more special than any other date night. In fact, it is much more exciting when your ‘other half’ gives you flowers or a token or a card when there is no apparent reason at all. There is nothing nicer than a spontaneous gift or surprise rather than something that could be forced or obligatory.
Valentine's Day, as we know it, is certainly a far cry from its origins. So where did it all begin? St Valentine was a priest, during the reign of the Emperor Claudius who was persecuting the Church at the time. Claudius had prohibited the marriage of young men because he thought that unmarried soldiers fought better than married soldiers.
St Valentine focused on promoting marriage within the Church, and he married young people at the time in secret. Eventually, St Valentine was caught, imprisoned and tortured for performing these illegal marriage ceremonies. During his time in prison St Valentine is said to have performed a miracle. Asturias was one of the jailors for Claudius. Asturias’ daughter, Julia, was blind and St Valentine healed her. After this miracle Asturias converted to Christianity.
The night before St Valentinewas executed, he wrote a last note to Julia. His farewell letter was given to the jailer to give to his daughter. In it he urged her to stay close to God and he signed it "From your Valentine". He was executed the following day: February 14, 269.
We have come a far cry from the saint who defended the sanctity and importance of love and marriage to the death.
I certainly warm to the day more when you return closer to its origins. We are very lucky in Ireland, that we can head to Whitefriar Street Church to see the relics of St Valentine. He was a saint that believed in love and marriage, so much so, that he laid his life on the line for it. In essence, that is what we are all asked to do in marriage, to selflessly lay our lives on the line for one another. This Valentine's Day I will look forward to remembering the saint and asking for his intercession in my marriage. We need God in our love lives; to strengthen and guide us and it is him to whom we should look towards for guidance not Cupid! Because after the chocolates are eaten and the flowers are dead, God’s love and grace still remains. St Valentine had a realistic idea of love. It is not all hearts and roses. We know that we will have to suffer for one another, and maintaining commitment is not easy. I think St Valentine would ask a young couple today if he were to marry them – are you ready for that commitment?
If there is one thing I can recommend on Valentine's Day it is heading to Whitefriar Street Church. Of course, couples visit the saint’s relics throughout the year, but on February 14, when Mass is celebrated, his relics are venerated and engaged couples can take part in the blessing of the rings. I found it really quite special and it is a good time to remember what true love is really all about.
My suggestion is not to use the day to feel under pressure or to gauge the commitment or love of your partner. Of course, celebrate if you wish, but really the key is: the day is what you make it. While a dozen red roses are nice to receive, remember that on Valentine's Day they will cost you twice the price, as compared to any other day of the year.
Perhaps if we remembered the origins of Valentine’s Day and bore this in mind it would colour how we celebrate the day. As well as recognising all the people in your life you love, remind yourself that real love requires selflessness and sacrifice.
With that idea in mind this Valentine’s Day for whoever you love, mum, dad, brother, sister, husband or wife, do something for them that is usually their responsibility. For example, offer to empty the dishwasher, cook the dinner or do the ironing. It's important to remember that every day should be special, and no tacky gifts are needed to express your love. I think that showing your love every day in small ways will mean much more to the special people in your life than getting caught up in all the hype on one day of the year.
In spite of some of my grumblings I am looking forward to Valentine's Day this year. Echoing once of my earlier sentiments my local parish is having a dinner in the parish centre for anyone in the local area who wishes to come along and show their community that they love and care about them.
I'm most looking forward to heading back to Whitefriar Street to ask St Valentine for his help to show the special people in my life love each and every day not just on February 14.