On Valentine’s Day

I have many friends who dislike holidays almost as a rule. I have always had a hard time with this, being a sucker for Christmas and Halloween in particular, plus a strong love/hate relationship with birthdays. My relationship with holidays is mixed but tightly woven and hard to just shake off. When I think about Valentine’s Day, however, I start to understand my friends’ dislike of the holiday structure.

I really hate Valentine’s Day. For me holidays are just another way to celebrate within a particular social structure. Doing the same set of things on the same set of days is special when you share them with others and over a period of time, say, year-to-year. Looking back at who you did a particular action with last year while you are doing the same action this year is a great thing and builds connections with people you love or come to love.

Unfortunately Valentine’s Day has lost its hold on these celebratory actions and has exchanged them for a bunch of symbols mostly connected to money. It says it celebrates something I find important – Love – but  does so in ways that demean and belittle it into something much less, much more tawdry. It boils love down to superficial symbols – Cupid and chocolate and lingerie and alcohol and bad love songs and little candy hearts. But there are no traditions associated with it other than buying certain things (flowers, cards, candy, a dinner) and exchanging those things not as actual gifts, but as symbols.

This isn’t the way I would celebrate love, either in the abstract or the concrete. I need actions. At Christmas we have lots of them that aren’t necessarily associated with buying anything. Certainly they are symbolic, but they are also concrete. There’s real gift exchanges, putting up and decorating the tree, the stockings, lights, caroling, and Christmas Dinner with loved ones. All of these are real things that you actually do, that you participate in, and there’s tons more. Valentine’s, as a rule, has none of these.

Valentines basically has “trying to get laid” as it’s one traditional action, with all of the associated symbolic gestures leading to that one end. It boils down all we consider about love down to that one desire, the end-all and be-all goal, and that’s what love is all about. To my knowledge there are no widely accepted public traditions that do not support that view.

There used to be traditions in schools where kids would exchange small cards with one another to show their esteem for one another. There were several different kinds of traditions that surrounded this practice, including making the giant “envelope” or “bag” to contain all the cards once given. I remember doing this and I remember helping my kids make their cards for the other kids.

These traditions are going away quickly, in many schools gone altogether, because they tended to turn into popularity contests, shows of money (who has the best cards), or enforced egalitarian exercises, none of which really teach the kids something worth teaching. This is a tradition, however, that I think is worth returning, as I think that honestly giving messages of esteem and care for one another is always a good thing and worth working out the problems.

Left behind is a void filled only with disconnected symbols with no anchor into any complex and fulfilling view of love. All that’s left is the single traditional practice of “Wooing” a partner with the intention of sex (Cupid’s symbolic arrow suggests precisely that), boiling love down to a carnal exchange.

I propose that we, all of us, come up with new traditions, physical actions that we can participate in each year on Valentine’s Day that in some way celebrates the idea and ideal of Love. These don’t have to be large actions. I mean you don’t have to go chop down a tree and drag it into your living room. Just something small that you can bring back each year to mark the day and the meaning of the day in some meaningful way.

Here’s what I suggest:

Take a bowl of water, some small cut out paper hearts, and a pen that has ink that will run when it gets wet. Take a heart and write down something of love. it can be a hope for love,  little thought about love, or even just the first word that comes to mind when you think about love.

Once you’ve written it down, fold the heart over and then offer it to the world by slipping it into the water. As the ink begins to run into the water, imagine the thought about love going out into the world and imagine that love eventually returning to you in meaningful ways (clearly the thoughts written should be positive things that you’d actually want returned to you… “Love Stinks” doesn’t really work for this kind of exercise).

That’s my idea. What’s your’s?

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