Valentine's Day: A holiday overdue for extinction
In a time of unease, in a nation torn by political division, we have an opportunity to band together this weekend and take a collective stand. My friends, the time has come to end the tyranny of Valentine's Day. It was a bad idea when it started, we've had 1,500 years to make it work, and now we must pull the plug and send the baby Cupid down with the bathwater.
I can hear the skeptics already: How could you attack sweet, innocent Valentine's Day? It's about love and hope and aspiration.
Maybe. But it's also about nails-on-chalkboard commercials, the sentiments of others excerpted in corny cards, the pressure to come up with something to give, and the fear of having nothing to receive.
Valentine's Day is thought to have its roots in an ancient Roman fertility festival celebrated during the ides of February. According to legend, boys would run through town with strips of a sacrificed goat dipped in blood, "gently slapping" both women and field crops. And as if that weren't romantic enough, young bachelors would draw women's names out of an urn, forming couples who would pair up for the year.
Pope Gelasius I formalized Feb. 14 as St. Valentine's Day around 500 A.D. He outlawed the lottery system as un-Christian (far more Christian to have matches negotiated based on factors such as wealth and status). But the holiday retained its coupling theme.
From there, the beast grew and grew, becoming a $14 billion industry in the United States alone. Money can't buy you love, but it can buy you mass-produced words and symbols, the chance to aim safe and low and get that special someone that not-so-special something.
Hallmark analyzed its best-selling cards a few years ago and discovered that out of thousands of offerings, the same card was the bestseller in nearly every U.S. city. With a picture of a rose and the words "For the one I love" on its cover, it was so perfectly average that it was perfect for every sweetheart.
Jewelry companies suggest that heart-shaped necklaces are our last, best chance to show the romantic side mysteriously latent the other 364 days of the year. The Vermont Teddy Bear company unleashes shockingly awful ads pushing us to send stuffed animals -- with overnight delivery for the truly desperate. We spend in excess, afraid we'll fall short of an ideal. And yet, with all the profligacy, the romance has been beaten out of us.
In fact, a recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found that more than one-fourth of American adults would rather spend Valentine's Day with their pet than their partner. All that work to find a partner, and you could have just gone to Petco?
Meanwhile, for most singles, Valentine's Day serves one main purpose: to remind you that in a world of 6.8 billion people, you still haven't found that special someone.
Back in my high school days, students could order Valentine's carnations for their love interests. The flowers were delivered with great fanfare in homeroom to the usual suspects ("Who, me? What a wonderful surprise!"). And all day long, couples toted around their precious flowers, while the rest of us carried the scent of rejection.
Of course, most of the lingering injustices of high school disappear as we march into adulthood. Unless you're single on Valentine's Day. From the floral deliveries in the office to the restaurants filled with couples, Valentine's Day is like living in a John Hughes movie, a day-long ordeal of sitting in the bleachers watching the slow-dance.
Despite its sorry record and utter failure as a romantic vehicle, getting rid of Valentine's Day is easier said than done. Much like the health-care system, Valentine's Day has a large corporate constituency and a small group of ardent supporters. Still, I believe we owe it to future generations to try. My proposal: Let's merge it with Presidents' Day. Nobody gets fired up for P-Day any more, so let's just have P-and-V-Day. Eventually, nobody will remember the purpose, and we all can enjoy a relaxing day off, free from unrealistic expectations and disillusionment -- and FedEx deliveries of teddy bears in leather jackets.