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.