When Valentine's Day rolls around each year, why do you celebrate?
I was sitting in class the other day and I glanced over at a fellow student's daily planner. She was looking at the following week and on the 14th there was a big headline which said: "GROSS."
I know why she thinks this. The criticisms against Valentine's Day are fair. That it has become a corporate holiday, even that it is a Hallmark holiday, is a legitimate concern. Also that it perpetuates misogynistic stereotypes, that's true too. Frequently it's portrayed as a day in which everyone except you is doing something wildly romantic. They are having their praise sung from mountaintops while you sit all alone on the internet and watch... bored, on the sidelines.
In elementary school you remember people passing Valentine's cards out to each other. They usually had some pithy lovey-dovey phrase. They were maybe themed with this or that celebrity or this or that cartoon character, attached with some generic (and probably "GROSS") candy. As far as holidays went, there wasn't much to it. What was the point. Love? Love of what?
If anything, as a little boy, Valentine's Day was a pretty big waste of time. There didn't seem to be any point. Over time, I came to love this day.
It is sometimes credited that Chaucer and his Parlement of the Foules is the primary inspiration for this holiday. The poem was written for the wedding of King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. This was in a larger theme of poetry regarding Valentines. It was to express a kind of romantic and courtly love between two people.
In the middle of February, ancient Romans celebrated Lupercalia. Young boys would draw the names of young girls and the two would be paired. Supposedly, this was celebrated to symbolize the pairing of the birds and the early blossoming of plant-life at this time. Lupercalia, the Festival of the Wolf, was in honor of the Mother she-wolf who nursed and reared little Romulus and Remus before they were men. This was not merely the pairing of young lovers for fun, but also a fertility ritual. Young women, after the ritual of Luperci, would line up to be whipped by Sacerdotes. As this, in their minds, was a stimulant for good fertility.
Maybe it is true, there is historical reason to look at Valentine's Day as a day for romantic love. Maybe that is proper after all. But why should a day especially designated to celebrate love stop there? Might we look at Valentine's Day in an even bigger way?
Memories of giving Valentines throughout my life are interesting. I remember not particularly caring about any of the Valentines that I myself received, but always wondered if someone might misinterpret one I sent. My intention was never to use a Valentine as a message of romantic love, but more as a kind gesture as it was generally accustomed to be. But it always made me think there is power in the message.
February 14th is Valentine's Day, but it's also a day like any other. Things happen on this day. Perhaps you are aware of the Saint Valentine's Day Massacre, or even the basic fact that the holiday is named after a martyr (or three!) who died for Christianity. But did you know that on February 14th, 1778 the United States Flag was formally recognized for the very first time? The USS Ranger, captained by John Paul Jones, received a nine gun salute by Admiral Toussaint-Guillaume Picquet de la Motte of the French Navy. That is a Valentine worth sending.
The broader history of this day shows there is, if nothing more than coincidentally, a theme of communication. Valentines of all kinds have been sent in a variety of ways.
In 1849 James Polk becomes the first President to have his photograph taken. In 1855 Texas is formally connected by telegraph to the rest of the United States via New Orleans. In 1876 both Elisha Gray and Alexander Graham Bell apply for the patent to make the first telephone. In 1899 the first voting machines are approved by the United States Congress for federal elections. In 1924 we have the birth of IBM (International Business Machines). In 1945 Franklin Roosevelt aboard the USS Quincy establishes the first Saudi-US relationship with King Ibn Saud. And more recently, in 1962 Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis brought American viewers on a personal, televised tour of the White House.
Consider a Valentine to be a message. A message that needs to be communicated.
What are some Valentines sent recently?
There is an example that comes to my mind as the perfect Valentine. Though it has nothing to do with the date, it is that Israel loves Iran and Iran loves Israel. Perhaps you have seen the picture which went viral last fall. Maybe you have seen the TEDTalk in which Ronny Edry discusses its creation. He says, "this is the courageous thing to do: to try to reach to the other side before it's too late." Edry had a message to send: "Iranians... we [heart] you." A Valentine all the way to its heart-shaped form.
Secondly, on February 14, 2011, just a short while after the beginning of the Arab Spring, the Bahraini people joined in. This is known now as the Day of Rage. Following government crackdowns and alleged Shia discrimination, the Bahraini people called for revolutionary measures to lead them towards a more just Constitutional Monarchy. This movement, broadly, could not have happened without some of the aforementioned February 14th advancements.
Thirdly, and possibly most importantly, Eve Ensler along with her project V-Day have created a women's movement which holds their mission is "a world where women live safely and freely." Why is this so important? On a day where we are to celebrate romantic love, we ought to celebrate one of the fundamental components making it possible.
Now there is some criticism against this movement. Some say it further divides the sexes but I disagree. I think, if anything, it sheds light on the apparent divide in hopes there may be real reconciliation, real unity. We do not live in a world where women are equal to men. Even in supposedly progressive countries like ours women are paid less and work more.
How do they work more? By lovingly raising children. Feeding them, teaching them, clothing them, caring for them in every way that men commonly do not. Just like Mother she-wolf rearing little Romulus and Remus when abandoned by their caretakers. Mother's work is the most undervalued market in the world. Worldwide, the oppressed person may as well be cast as a female because statistically she is!
V-Day seeks to raise awareness about not merely injustice but reality itself. It is real to say the way things are simply are not the same for the two genders. In fact, this year, because of it being the 15th anniversary there is a special occasion in which all around the world people will gather in support of gender equality and nonviolence. Happening today, they are calling this event "One Billion Rising".
So let's recount some of the basic facts. It's true that Valentine's Day has a history rooted deeply in two traditions of romance and courtship. The first being the ancient tradition of Lupercalia and the second being Chaucer's Cult of the Birds. By looking at the day itself, and the actual exchange of Valentines, I think we see a good reason to consider this day in a broader context.
But what's Love got to do with it?
In the 1954 book Love, Power, and Justice, Paul Tillich describes Love to be the "reunion of the estranged." What he means by this is the very nature of being-itself is one, essentially united, in that all perceived 'others' are merely estrangements. They are fundamentally connected to you as they are all contained within the same reality. Now of course, there are many theories all throughout history which say very similar things, so Tillich is only representative of a broader idea.
"Whenever I get gloomy with the state of the world, I think about the arrivals gate at Heathrow Airport. General opinion's starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don't see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often, it's not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it's always there - fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know, none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge - they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I've got a sneaky feeling you'll find that love actually is all around."
I don't even particularly like this movie, but the point stuck. Love actually is... everywhere. And if Valentine's Day is a day to celebrate Love as-such, not merely romantic, but Love-itself, can't we find a good reason to make this Hallmark holiday into something high and holy?
It's like when France recognized the American flag, basically confirming our Sovereignty from England... I feel that recognition of the 'other' is important. To recognize that our Revolutions were interconnected, to recognize that we are all in this together. Acknowledging that our Declaration of Independence was real. To me, this was an act of Love.
We receive news every day of the looming conflict in Israel and the broader Middle East. But do we really want that? Ask the people. You might find out what's true: Israel loves Iran and Iran loves Israel. Because you've got to wonder... Iran and Israel: A Love Story?
We also hear about corruption in many governments all around the world. The Arab Spring, including Bahrain's Day of Rage, leads me to believe something more clearly over time: all our grievances are connected. If it is true that you and are I bound together in reality--which I assure you, we are--then your problems are my problems.
We see, clear as day, how women are treated differently than men. We want that world where women are free and they are safe. We all want that. Why can't we have it? What are our obstacles? Globally women suffer by economic difference, and they are completely undervalued as our Mothers. Perhaps I am wrong. Maybe we don't all want that. And that must be discussed.
Ultimately, I want to highlight that Valentine's Day is a good day. It is not just mushy-gushy corporate romance but it is rooted in a great human drama. One bound up directly with the advancements in our technology and our ability to communicate. It is important to me that we celebrate Love in a way which communicates to us that Love actually is... everywhere.
Not merely emotions. But true to the nature of reality.
Because when you look at it like Tillich, or Prime Minister Hugh Grant, you start to see that the 'other' is not so other. Do you know why? You and the other are in Love.
If you believe that then go tell someone. Tell them you love them. Give them a Valentine. It's really not so gross after all.