Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Seeing green on Valentine's Day

I'm a little pressed for time this evening, but I wanted to draw your attention to this post at Faith and Family Live on the topic of Valentine's Day. It was interesting to read what different women expected or wished for on St. Valentine's Day, or as the liturgical calendar has it this year, the Sixth Sunday of Ordinary Time. (Okay, just kidding; I see no harm in a little cultural celebration of St. Valentine's Day, even if February 14 is technically the feast of Saints Cyril and Methodius on the liturgical calender except for years when it falls on a Sunday).

I did end up jumping in when someone was critical towards those women who said they didn't expect or want tokens of romance on St. Valentine's Day. There is, like I said, no harm in a little cultural celebration of the day, but there's definite harm in the notion that Catholics are obligated to participate in secular rituals just because they fall near or on our own holy days. We don't have to get drunk on St. Patrick's Day (and really shouldn't!), we don't need to put up colored egg-shaped lights at Easter, and we don't have to pressure our husbands into buying us overpriced flowers, chocolates or trinkets, or taking us out to a crowded restaurant for an indifferently cooked meal, just because that's our culture's idea of a proper St. Valentine's Day celebration.

Now, I want to stress that I'm not criticizing those who like to get flowers or some such thing, or be taken out to dinner, on St. Valentine's Day. Cultural traditions vary from family to family, and in some families these things are seen to be important and special.

But we need to remember, I think, that we live in a very materialistic culture, one which places a lot of pressure on people via advertising and other mediums to conform to a particular "vision" of what St. Valentine's Day, or any similar holiday, ought to be. We are supposed to look at the TV commercial featuring the immaculately-dressed woman with the perfect hair and stress-free smile, and the charming and attentive man who reaches across the restaurant table over the remains of a steak and lobster dinner to present her with one of those tiny velvet boxes hiding sparkle and promise, and think to ourselves, I want what she has.

And when the reality fails to measure up--when the restaurant is crowded and the gentleman is preoccupied with the Daytona 500 and the woman is far less than immaculately-dressed and she--we--need a haircut and her--our--smile is decidedly stressed by the last-minute rush out the door as the babysitter pulls in and the steak-and-lobster-and-velvet-box fantasy becomes a spaghetti-and-garlic-bread-and-he-forgot-a-card reality, we're supposed to pout, and fuss, and make sure he knows he's got to do better next year...

...and all of that plays very nicely into the hands of the Valentine's Day industry, which presently rakes in more than seventeen billion dollars each year in sales of cards and stuffed animals and chocolate and flowers and dinners out and, yes, little velvet boxes with sparkly contents.

I'm not trying to be the Valentine's Day version of a grinch, here. But I can't help thinking about what that kind of money might mean, say, to Haiti just now. Or to the poor right here in our own country. Or to a Catholic mission in Honduras or Guatemala.

Traditionally speaking, the celebration of St. Valentine's Day holiday involved a simple exchange of homemade cards or letters, or homemade trinkets, between sweethearts or among friends. I think it would be nice if we could recapture the simple charm of that kind of tradition, before yet another holiday becomes swallowed up in consumerism and the illusions it generates.


LarryD said...

Traditionally speaking, the celebration of St. Valentine's Day holiday involved a simple exchange of homemade cards or letters, or homemade trinkets, between sweethearts or among friends.

So whatcha gettin' me?

Anonymous said...

Love the post! Valentine's day has become the "Christmas make-up day gift for women." Yuck!!

As an aside, I'm all in favor of the cards/letters/trinkets idea as long as it doesn't turn into a war to see who can concoct the best craft/handmade card/homemade treat.

Barbara C. said...

The thing I wonder is, Who can afford to buy their wife fancy jewelery every year? And how many people put themselves in debt for these to keep up with the fairytale?

And you think Valentines' Day is bad...up here in the Chicago area they have a holiday called "Sweetest Day". I think it takes place sometime in the Fall, but it's just like Valentine's Day. The stores pull out the special love cards and candy and roses.

Anonymous said...

Well said, that blogger!

I'm single. And I like being single. But I used to suffer at this time of year because I didn't have a sweetheart who'd come bearing sparkly gifts - I'd bought in to the advertising.

I really like the idea of friends exchanging small gifts or letters and that's something I may think about for next year.

Deirdre Mundy said...

We celebrate Cyril and Methodius day around here-- it's an excuse to make Greek Food for dinner!

(Well, the kids do the Valentine thing, but we don't)

Then my husband buys me Chocolate once it's 75% off! :)

I've met women who complain that skipping Valentine's day means that you don't care about your marriage, or that you're not very romantic, etc. etc.

I think they must come from a very different sort of marriage than I do.

It's romantic when my husband takes out the garbage for me so I don't have to...When he takes the baby so I can take a shower... when we get to have a glass of wine and play a few games of Dominion while the kids watch a movie.....

Blowing out tight budget on over-priced jewelry and an expensive dinner out? That would be grounds for HOMICIDE.

Basically, I think it boils down to this: you should love each other, serve each other, and enjoy each other's company EVERY DAY OF THE YEAR -- not just on the Feast Day of the Apostles to the Slavs.

Daddio said...

I'm lucky to have married a girl who doesn't believe in Valentine's Day, or any other secular events wherein your are "supposed to do" something.

I do celebrate actual important events - Christmas, birthdays, anniversaries. But mostly I randomly give her flowers or trinkets or Dr. Peppers or walkin'-around money once in a while, for no reason. And she thinks that's more fun anyway.

And, I know she's not just saying that to let me off the hook, because our first date in high school was "NOT going to homecoming" together. She always prefers to go wherever all those other people won't be, or stay in for dessert and a movie. Fine by me!

Anonymous said...


Interesting point you make. I agree in general, but I can also sympathize with a woman whose husband used to make a big deal out of something and doesn't any more. Maybe they get a little dramatic, but if V-Day was important to her while dating, I would have done it up big to court her, and would have kept it going in marriage if I sensed that it was still important to her.

As Erin wrote before on gift-giving, the wife should be open and honest and not drop coy hints and then pout when she's disappointed. But the husband shouldn't be a total moron either. If it's clear that V-Day is still important to her, then be a man and get a sitter and take her out to the mediocre restaurant with the crowds. She knows it's not a "real" holiday, but she thinks it's fun, so do it, without complaining.

Of course marriages mature, life happens, budgets will come into play. If you really don't have $50 to spend, the wife should understand. But yes, you do have to do SOMETHING just because it's Valentine's day. Early bed time for the kids and a pizza and DVD for mom and dad. It doesn't matter if you think it's stupid.

And you may think you've successfully talked her out of it with your practical arguments about budgets and crowds and all the little chores you do to show your love. And she may say that she agrees with you, to avoid an argument... but she probably doesn't. She let you win, but you lost something more important.

It's not that she doesn't appreciate those things too, maybe even more. But how hard is it, really, to do all those little daily I-love-you's AND celebrate the silly holiday, if that's what she wants?

As we often tell our little engaged couples in our capacity as matrimony "gatekeepers" for our parish ;) ... be yourself when dating and courting, so that your spouse is not disappointed in the real you later on.

federoff9 said...

I don't like jewelry... or flowers....OK, I DO love chocolate. But my husband is more of the romantic than I am. I have come to understand his point of view, however- he wants the CHILDREN to see him being sweet and romantic so they feel secure in the love dad has for mom. Obviously, he's affectionate all year as well, and speaks lovingly to me, but he wants the children to see Mom and Dad are still sweet on each other, so he usually gets me flowers, etc. for anniversaries, birthdays, etc.
For us, personally, though, Valentine's Day means ICE CREAM. Feb 14 is the day we met in grad school, and I asked him out with a bunch of other students for ice cream after class... we got to talking there... one thing lead to another... 19 years and 10 children letter- HERE WE ARE! So we take the kids out for ice cream on Valentine's Day to celebrate that fateful meeting. (Yes, even during Lent!)

freddy said...

Anonymous at 1:26pm:
I really do disagree with you on this one. I'm a girl (ok, after 7 children and 21 years of marriage, "girl" should be taken loosely :), and I've never been comfortable with the whole Valentine's Day shtick. It's demanding, pricey, and doesn't really fit in with the idea of celebrating the feast day of a saint and martyr.

The attitude you seem to have is that celebrating Valentine's Day is required, and that it's about the husband doing something for the wife -- and if she's made it clear that she doesn't want or need anything, she's lying.

I'm very sorry if that's been your experience, but not every couple has that dynamic.

My husband and I have perfectly good birthdays, and an anniversary to celebrate that are our special days. A saint's day should honor the saint. If couples want to honor St. Valentine in the "Hallmark" way, that's fine! But it's not for everyone.

Anonymous said...

Good post Erin.

I'm sorry about my bad behavoir in the torture posts. I really like your posts and you're very insightful.


Red Cardigan said...

Steven, no worries. You're engaging in the debate, which I see as a plus. Like I said over there, that's how I started; I, too, used to think that inflicting a little pain or violence or cruelty couldn't possibly be wrong when so much could theoretically be at stake. But after arguing and discussing and thinking and reading and praying about it all, my mind and heart were changed.

Please keep participating. You really are welcome, and if things get a little heated now and again, that's okay too. I do try to be fair to both sides, and just took Richard to task for the nickname business. It's natural for people to have strong opinions on this issue, but if we can stay civil we can all keep learning from each other.