Valentine’s Day Rituals Often Begin in the Classroom
Valentine’s Day rituals often begin in the classroom, where the holiday serves both as an enjoyable arts and crafts activity and as a pedagogical tool, teaching children about structuring love and friendship into a concrete, prescribed form. The ritualization of love continues throughout our lives, not only on Valentine’s Day, but through weddings, anniversaries, and Mother’s and Father’s Day. One popular critique of this type of celebration is that it seems to limit to one day the expression of an emotion that ought to be manifested throughout the year. Moreover, these feelings are expressed through material gifts: “To get a sentiment across you must spend money,” Maillé comments. ----------------
I remember clearly the day when my grade three teacher made us all prepare a box for Valentine’s Day. This box would be the recipient of myriad heart-shaped cut-outs and an assortment of sweet little notes speaking of friendship and admiration. Every year, the influx of red chocolate boxes in drug stores, the plethora of magazine covers filled with romantic themes and the brightly decorated shops testify that adults partake in this holiday as actively as grade schoolers. Watching this year’s Christmas decorations disappear and heart-shaped cardboard take their place, I wondered what role this holiday plays in today’s society. Who celebrates it? And what are its origins?
There are different stories about the origins of Valentine’s Day. It seems to have roots in both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. The Roman Empire celebrated the goddess of women and marriage, Juno, on the thirteenth and fourteenth of February, and Rome proper celebrated the fertility rites of Lupercalia, on the fifteenth. It seems likely that the early Church associated these holidays with the Christian martyr Valentine, thus co-opting it into Christian tradition. One legend says that Valentine was executed for secretly performing marriages, which had been forbidden by the Roman Emperor Claudius II. According to another legend, Valentine was imprisoned by the Romans and fell in love with his jailor’s daughter. Before his death, he left her the very first ‘valentine’s greeting,’ signed “from your Valentine,” an expression still used today. There are several legends, and, in fact, several martyrs in the Christian early medieval tradition named Valentine. Whatever its true origins, Saint Valentine’s Day, as it was then called, gained popularity as early as the Middle Ages. The first explicit reference to Valentine’s Day is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Foules, written in 1382, and the first greeting known to us was sent in 1415, by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife.
Thus, despite the cynics, Valentine’s Day was not actually invented by greeting card companies for their own profit, although they do profit and play an active role in promoting this day. Furthermore, although Valentine’s Day is a Western tradition, celebrated as we know it in Canada, the U.S., Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia and France, the tradition of setting aside a day for expressing love or friendship is common across many diverse cultures: Persian, Romanian, Brazilian, Chinese and South Korean, for example. What is it about love that demands a holiday?
In modern terms, there is certainly a prominent economic aspect. For example, the exportation of this holiday to Eastern European and Scandinavian countries in recent years was essentially commercially motivated. Here in Montreal, Valentine’s Day is the most lucrative day in the year for restaurants. Chantal Maillé, professor at the Simone de Beauvoir Institute at Concordia University, connects the commercialization of Valentine’s Day to its increasing ritualization: “There was already an element of that when I was younger – but now… chocolate, flowers, restaurants; the ritual aspect of the holiday seems to me to have taken a more significant scope.” Indeed, 188 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually in the U.S., making it the second most popular occasion, after Christmas, to exchange greetings cards.
Valentine’s Day rituals often begin in the classroom, where the holiday serves both as an enjoyable arts and crafts activity and as a pedagogical tool, teaching children about structuring love and friendship into a concrete, prescribed form. The ritualization of love continues throughout our lives, not only on Valentine’s Day, but through weddings, anniversaries, and Mother’s and Father’s Day. One popular critique of this type of celebration is that it seems to limit to one day the expression of an emotion that ought to be manifested throughout the year. Moreover, these feelings are expressed through material gifts: “To get a sentiment across you must spend money,” Maillé comments.
In the United States, women purchase approximately
85% of Valentine’s Day cards
“There’s also the show aspect. Showing your love in front of others – why a restaurant? Why flowers sent to the office? There’s something about the idea of putting yourself and your love out there in public, a sort of mise en scène,” says Maillé. This public performance aspect of Valentine’s Day is reminiscent of weddings: although the core of a wedding is a private vow, they are traditionally celebrated very publicly. “So on Valentine’s Day, some people might want to be in the show instead of watch it –that too can be really pleasant: get involved completely, get dressed up, go to a fancy restaurant. There’s something fun in knowing that you’re participating in society, instead of just watching it,” Maillé continues. Valentine’s Day, with its private and public ritualized expression of affection, is one way that society teaches us how to manifest and how to measure our romantic relationships. “If you skip this holiday one year, or if you don’t celebrate it at all, you might start wondering if your relationship isn’t what you thought it was,” says Maillé.
A thirty-five year old Montrealer, let’s call him Daniel, told me that though for him, Valentine’s Day is pretty insignificant, his wife of six years continues to be disappointed when he lets February 14th pass by as just another day. The dynamic in Daniel’s relationship is not uncommon. Valentine’s Day does appear to be more significant for women: according to American Greetings, women purchase approximately 85% of Valentine’s Day cards in the United States, although this number includes cards sent to friends, co-workers and family members. Their web site explains that though men purchase considerably less cards, this number is rising, possibly as a result of growing social acceptance for men to express their feelings. Twenty-eight year old Tara speculates that generally “women are more encouraged and even expected to do caretaking work in relationships and express emotions and affection to their husbands and boyfriends; Valentine’s Day is one day when women can legitimately ask them to reciprocate.”
But nowadays some young women rebel against the notion of Valentine’s Day. Nour, a 20-year old student at McGill University who’s been in a relationship for over two years, says she is anti Valentine’s Day. “I don’t like the concept of it. It’s cheesy: you don’t love just on a specific day. I am actually planning on getting into a fight on the 14th just for the hell of it.”
Others expressed different feelings. A 25 year old Concordia University male student explained to me that he never really celebrated Valentine’s Day, except once when he was 20. “But it was very kitschy”, he admitted almost uncomfortably, “it’s something that is probably only for serious relationships.” A quick survey among a few of my close friends who have been or are in long term relationships revealed that, beyond a dinner here or there, they never celebrate this day in any yearly or ritualized way. Remarkably, all mentioned that their fathers buy their mothers flowers on this day, showing that while they were brought up with this tradition, they did not feel the need or desire to bring it into their own lives.
The stories and ways of relating to and celebrating Valentine’s Day have continued to evolve. Historically and today, it has maintained its strong emphasis on romantic relationships, traditionally heterosexual relationships, although this holiday of couplehood may now be opening to encompass homosexual relationships as well. Indeed, from Time to Cosmopolitan, the magazines on newsstands are about love, relationships, where to go and what to do on Valentine’s Day. The intense focus on couples has caused this day to be referred to, jokingly, as Singles Awareness Day. I wonder how, with an ever-increasing number of singles in modern-day Canada, this holiday continues to thrive as it does. It will be curious to see how this holiday continues to evolve.
February 10, 2013
* Image : coeurslesmiralies.com.jpg
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|Miriam's corner is refreshing and welcome addition to Tolerance.ca|
|By jakey on March 22,2008|
I love Miriam's corner . It lends perspective and insight into a wide range of topics. Very readable and enjoyable. Well done!
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