Valentine's Day has long been a seemingly divisive and polarising festivity. The approach of February causes relationship rifts, overspending, stress, and for some, a fear they will be alone forever. Others admonish the holiday and go to extreme lengths to ignore its existence. I have been on every side of this holiday. As a child, I was naive and gave out homemade heart-shaped cards to boys in my class whom I imagined I would grow up to marry. In my teens, I turned my nose up at the holiday and secretly feared I would never find someone to fancy me, only celebrating the platonic love I had for my female friends as my twenties approached, with ‘Galentine’s Day’. It wasn't until I entered my current relationship that I finally saw the appeal and went all out to make Valentine’s Day special.
Dating back to the 8th century, Valentine’s has been a staple of society for centuries, as ingrained in our culture as hugs are as a sign of care. However, for many, we seem to have forgotten how to actually celebrate, opting out of the holiday, forgetting the real meaning of it, and focusing on a dislike of other couples and their happiness instead.
Disliking or even hating the holiday is not a new thing: for every loved-up couple, there is someone (often but not always single) who looks down on the celebration of love. Criticisms range from the idea that it is just a capitalised invention to just being far too sappy and ‘lovey’ — something not everyone is into. People have spent years trying to spread their negative feelings about the festivity, but they meet far less criticism than the so-called Scrooges who spread negativity around the Christmas period.
Whilst the idea that Valentine’s Day has been monetised and commercialised (as have all holidays) is a widely discussed topic, we often dismiss those with less romantic ideas as not having been struck by Cupid’s arrow. However, this cynicism about the holiday can exist in those who are single, in relationships, and even happily married. For some, it becomes just another day or seems far too stressful to put on top of heavy workloads, chores, and raising kids.
But for whatever reason, people and couples opt out of the holiday, it is clear we have forgotten how to celebrate love and make the most of a day dedicated to passion and affection.
The main hatred of Valentine’s stems from the idea that it is too commercialised and capitalised, with cynics saying it’s all about expensive gifts and tacky presents. According to a recent study, 87 percent of Brits feel the holiday is too commercial, and only 4 percent of those surveyed enjoy the holiday. But the issue does not lie in how the day is marketed, but more in how we perceive it. If one allows it to be about material possessions and how much someone's love ‘costs,’ then it will be just another excuse to spend money. This capitalist takeover of the holiday has happened at our hands, and the ability to revert it back to its simpler and stripped-back origins is just as much in our control.
Another secondary criticism of the holiday is the focus on romantic love, especially as more people choose to stay single or in casual relationships. However, Valentine's has never been solely about romantic affection and is not just a holiday for those in relationships. Galentine’s is an increasingly popular way to celebrate the holiday, appreciating and highlighting the love in your life that isn’t just romantic. There’s a way to make the holiday work for you, to celebrate the love in your life without spending what feels like a fortune or having to wistfully watch couples declare their adoration for one another with PDA and grand gestures.
As Niamh Laver, a pharmacist and relationship veteran, explains, Valentine’s is more about the feelings and the thought, than the actions. She and her partner have spent the last three Valentines in a long-distance relationship but made the day work for them. “It wasn’t a huge Valentine’s, and it wasn’t something dramatic, but it was something really thoughtful. To me, that means more than the teddy bears and the chocolates and things like that. It’s kind of tat…..I would do something with your partner, it doesn’t have to be a huge thing.”
“People put a lot of money into Valentine’s, and you don’t need to,” she adds.
But she has also taken the opportunity to share the holiday with friends and family. “We did Galentine’s, which was really nice. It was the first time I had done it. As long as you put thought into it, the thoughtful things are what matter.”
But making it fun and easy is not code for ignoring the holiday or the love in your life, it simply means looking beyond outdated and traditional ideas of love. Everyone has an abundance of love in their life, from friends to family and children. Valentine's Day can be an opportunity to embrace and acknowledge this, to show your appreciation for the love others have for you but also the love you have for them and for yourself.
Valentine’s Day is ruined by the pressure — this idea that gifts, dates, and time spent together should be perfect. It comes with this notion that everything has to go a certain way and that anything less is somehow wrong or failed. Valentine’s is about love; anything that shows someone you love them or celebrates your love is the only issue worth worrying about. Even if it’s messy, lazy or boring, showing someone you care can look however you want it to. It doesn’t have to involve gifts, fancy overpriced dates, or perfect declarations of affection. It doesn’t even have to involve money or hours of effort.
Design a celebration that dances to your own tune, breaking free from the societal spotlight. Let your unique vibe outshine Valentine’s Day expectations.
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