tirsdag, februar 12, 2008

A Day to Forget

"A Day to Forget" by Nancy Gibbs
Published in Time magazine, in the issue dated 18 February 2008

I'm sentimental about many things: The lumpy feel of a baby's unused feet, the metallic smell of the air before the first snow, the last scene in It's a Wonderful Life. But Valentine's Day leaves me cold. It's a holiday that has no idea of what it's really celebrating. Or at least no idea of whom its celebrates. St. Valentine could be any of half a dozen Christian martyrs whom the early church recruited to clean up and bless pagan fertility festivals. Of the top candidates, the best known is a priest named Valentinus, who was beheaded by Emperor Claudius the Cruel on Feb. 14, A.D. 269. Upon slim evidence, whole layers of legend are stacked: That Valentinus performed secret weddings after Claudius banned marriage to prevent soldiers from deserting his armies; that he refused to deny Christ and so was thrown into prison, where he healed the jailer's blind daughter; that he fell in love with her and left a note in the cracks of his cell the night before his execution, "From your Valentine."

Now martyrdom is admirable, even preferable, in a saint, but it is terrible in a relationship in which generosity demands payment in guilt. And a celebration that once featured bachelors pulling women's names out of an urn like a door prize and a belief that the first person you spotted on the morning of Feb. 14 would be your mate for life doesn't say much for romance. (Some maids were taught that if they awoke and saw a blackbird, they would marry a clergy man; a bluebird meant a poor man; a robin meant a sailor.) Over the years, Valentine became the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages, but also of beekeepers and, of course, greeting-card manufacturers. Love comes with a sting, and at a price.

In the interest of domestic harmony, I should say that my wonderful husband has always handled the day's customs with flair. Our daughters like it for the candy, which now comes in quantities rivaled only be Halloween, with Tootsie Rolls taped to the cards kids hand out. I have no problems with the holiday for 8-year-olds, now that it has shed its Darwinian savagery. Children are expected to bring a valentine for every classmate, unlike the days of our youth, when the teachers would collect the cards in a big red box and then call out names one by one, in a public accounting of exactly how many friends each child actually had.

On the other hand, the idea of 8-year-olds' celebrating a holiday that shimmies into view wearing a negligee does seem odd. But consider the huge commerical stakes: "The tradition of sending and receiving classroom valentines," observes American Greetings, which owns a $1.8-billion piece of the "social expression" industry, "is often a child's first experience with greeting cards." A billion cards are sent every year, second only to Christmastime, and 85% of them by women. For this we can thank Esther Howland, an entrepreneurial 1847 Mount Holyoke grad, whose father owned a stationery store and who came up with the idea of mass-producing valentines. The Mother of the Valentine never married but did get very rich, racking up annual sales equivalent to more than $2 million today.

For many of us, though, Valentine's Day only pretends to celebrate what we like about love while actually undermining it. True romance comes unscehduled, unruly, "a madness most discreet," quoth Romeo. Over time, as it ripens into devotion, still it improvises, a favor rendered, a sudden kiss, a private joke, flowers for no reason. Its expression is the very opposite of the fretful, "pre-order now, or be left with drug-store chocolates" connivances that the day promotes. For those who feel well loved, every day, of course, is Valentine's. For the rest, no card can console.

That's why the holiday lends itself so nicely to ridicule. Valentine's Day has inspired its own insurgency, "Singles Awareness Day," in which the unattached celebrate their solitude with a saucy "Happy SAD Day". Any holiday that triggers guerrilla opposition should give us pause. "Finding the right Valentine's Day gift is probably the most difficult shopping experience in any man's life," warns AskMen.com, which notes that unlike Christmas or birthday presents, these gifts reflect not only taste and affection "but your degree of commitment as well". Experts argue over subtexts: Is giving lingerie a turn-on or just tacky? Restaurants sweeten the menu and hike the prices; Christian websites offer valentine messages from God. You can buy a heart-shaped potato on eBay. It comes in a red box.

There's nothing wrong, of course, with delighting in love and honoring friendship and stopping in the bleak midwinter to tickle the people we love. But it's also a good sign of psychosocial health if the day just saunters by and winks, and you feel no need to pay attention. The minute it feels like it is a duty, it has lost its purpose. "Love sought is good," Shakespeare observed, "but given unsought is better."

5 kommentarer:

thethinker sagde ...

Valentine's Day just leaves me confused. The lame cards and the cheesy gifts can't really make people as happy as they pretend to be. Maybe I just feel this way because I'm bitter or lonely. I don't know.

Miao sagde ...

Maybe. But it could also be that you are more enlightened.

Anonym sagde ...

I guess you might be feeling the disdain for the hypocrisy behind Valentine's Day. Nevertheless, I do not think you should feel confused, or disdained over it.

Festivals are days to mark ideas that we treasure in society. I believe there are people who genuinely believe in the idea, appreciates it, and celebrate it, as well as they could. I have no qualms with this group of people, who are genuinely happy.

True, hypocrisy exists, probably more numerous than the genuine feelings of friendship in fact (I define it as people who give things or wish something without really appreciating the meaning at all, but acting as if they do...). Yet if we are enlightened to see through the facade, I do not think anyone should be upset. To adapt a quote from Gladiator (those of you who are movie freaks should know), surely as foolishness and hypocrisy smiles at us, all we can do is to smile back. Definitely there is no reason to get upset and confused, certainly not if you are the more enlightened one.

We might feel lonely amidst the jolly (or hypocritical jolly), but just remember, hypocrites do so as they fear the loneliness, no less than you do. Either way, you're never alone if you feel so (there are many of us), so cheers =)

Personally, I'm not one to celebrate festivals. As a friend mentioned recently in his blog, we the new generation are a 'deculturalised lot' (which might explain why hypocrisy runs deep in our society). We do not see festivals as occasions to celebration ideas, but for its practical values (for us, holidays. For the hypocrites, half-meant socialising and patronising).

A point was made in his post, that we "don't need a specific earmarked occasion" to wish people well. This was repeated in your post, that it would be better to find 'love unsought'. Everyday can be a Valentine's or New Year, and realising that we know and feel the celebration and hubris over festivals are overblown.

But hey, despite that, I want to be the first group of people - the pure and simple hearted group, who just wants to be happy, and genuinely means it well for their friends and loved ones.

I know I cannot deny the hypocrisy that exists, nor the fact that I'm 'deculturalised' and can't really connect to the festival. But rather than sulking (the worst state), rather than letting the day past as if nothing happened (since its a reminder, why not get reminded), I'll try my best to immerse in the mood, and if I can, make myself GENUINELY happier. I might not be running around giving lame cards and cheesy gifts, but from a sincere heart, the smallest wishing is the best present. This might sound cheesy, but seriously, to all the 'deculturalised', lonely or otherwise, I wish you (genuinely, see how much I typed for this reply...)a happy Valentine's Day.

Be happy, wherever you may be =)

wenxin sagde ...

Nice article! Hope ya enjoy ur VDay too! (;

Miao sagde ...

Anonymous: Wow. That is an incredibly long comment. Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I believe that the friend you are talking about is a mutual friend of ours. ;)

Happy Valentine's Day to you too! Thank you very much for your well wishes - may happiness comes your way as well. Hope you'd enjoyed the day with your loved ones. :)