Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 February 2020

The Great Debate: Is Valentine's Day a waste of time and money?

It doesn't need to be February 14 to show someone you love them – but is there any harm marking the day anyway?

Valentine's Day doesn't have to be all about flowers and teddies - but it is hard to escape them come February 14. Getty Images
Valentine's Day doesn't have to be all about flowers and teddies - but it is hard to escape them come February 14. Getty Images

Every week, we get two people with opposing views to debate a trending topic. This week, The National's Weekend editor Katy Gillett and culture writer Razmig Bedirian argue if February 14 is a capitalistic cause or a worthy day to celebrate all things love.

Katy Gillett: At the risk of sounding like a total grump and complete cynic: yes, it is. Valentine’s Day may have started out with a purpose, but nowadays it’s a way for card and gift shops, restaurants and all manner of other businesses to cash in on a day that is supposed to be a celebration of love, not consumerism.

Razmig Bedirian: Sure, it is a Hallmark holiday, but isn’t there an occasion every other day of the year – from Christmas to Halloween and Black Friday – that businesses take advantage of to wring money out of us? We might as well have a day that’s about love.

KG: Very true. While I celebrate Christmas, I can’t say I love the proliferation of consumerism in the lead-up to the day either, and it starts earlier and earlier every year. The more important thing is, though, that Christmas’s roots can be clearly traced back. I’ve done a fair bit of research on Valentine’s Day and there is a variety of versions of the stories, all based on myths and legend. Hence I conclude it’s pointless. Don’t get me started on Black Friday.

RB: But isn’t it worth having a day of the year when we are inspired to look into the stories? Whether that means learning about the many St Valentines that existed or the gory nature of the ancient Roman Lupercalia festival. I think having a modern Valentine’s Day is a good touchstone for us to read a little bit more about what inspired the day. Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be about going out to fancy places and buying super-expensive gifts and cards. A finely crafted home-cooked meal, a couple of candles and a Charles Aznavour record is more than enough.

KG: You speak some sense and I’m all for a low-key evening, but what I see at this time of year is couples feeling pressured into spending money unnecessarily or single people feeling bad about not being in a relationship (again, unnecessarily). You can cook a meal, light a few candles and pop on a romantic record any day of the year. You don’t need it to be February 14 to show someone you love them.

RB: I can’t argue with that, because doing a little every day to show someone you care counts for more in the long run. But the day has been inscribed in our collective consciousness as a time to celebrate love. People can do so by sticking to the mainstream displays of affection (flowers, chocolates and so on) or they can go their own way and bundle wheat stalks together and give someone a jar of pickles instead, for example. The day, I think, is there for us to challenge popular conceptions of love.

KG: I’m not convinced many people or places challenge any conceptions of love when all the day ever seems to bring is stereotypical nonsense. You’ve got extortionately priced three-course meals and hotel stays coming at you from restaurants and hotels, classic red roses and heart-shaped boxes of chocolates from the shops, and even a whole trend of “anti-Valentine’s Day” parties from those people who are, I guess, trying to “challenge” the idea. Every year, marketing professionals find new ways to cash in on the increasingly commercial “holiday”. Sure, like you say, you can rebel against that by giving your beau something unconventional, but what’s the point?

It gives couples a chance to look at their relationship, either go full cheesy-mode or celebrate in a low-key and personal way

Razmig Bedirian

RB: Anti-Valentine’s Day parties seem a bit much. I agree that stereotypical nonsense has commandeered the day, but valentines don’t have to subscribe to classic red roses and boxes of chocolate. The way I think of it is the way I think of New Year’s Eve – you can either go all out, attend some exclusive event or have a nice, cosy evening either alone or with your favourite people. Either way, the occasion makes people look back at the year, going through its highest and lowest moments and some think of how to better themselves in the coming months. It’s a ritual and, like many rituals, it’s pointless. Valentine’s Day is similar. It gives couples a chance to look at their relationship, either go full cheesy-mode or celebrate in a low-key and personal way. You can choose a specific chocolate or a particular species of flower you know your beau loves, for example. Of course, you can give them gifts on any other day, but why not on the day that it’s expected? It’s interesting to see how you subvert expectation and stereotype.

KG: I see where you’re coming from. It’s not as though I’ll ignore the day altogether. I will at least say the words “Happy Valentine’s Day” to my husband, with a roll of the eyes, to which he might scoff (because, thankfully, we’re on the same page with this). I can’t remember the last time we did anything more than that, though. There was that one year when we tried to find the most down-to-earth cafe we could think of in our area to have dinner, somewhere we were certain wouldn’t have any special deals on. We ordered a pizza to share and what happened? It came out in the shape of a heart. There’s no getting away from it! Like you said, it’s a bit like New Year’s Eve. The choice is either go out and be bombarded with celebratory messages or stay in. I choose TV. What about you? What do you tend to do on the day?

RB: I’m getting bombarded by Valentine’s Day messages and emails from florists, restaurants and hotels. There is no escaping this, it’s true. But my girlfriend likes orchids, so I usually get her orchids. Besides that I grill some salmon, as it’s one of the few dishes I know how to cook well, and as the weather is usually nice at this time of year, we go for a walk by the Corniche. We went kayaking once and took a trip to Jebel Hafeet last year.

KG: That sounds lovely, actually. I could certainly stomach a spot of kayaking. Perhaps I should get my husband to read your argument for some inspiration? I’ll just insist we go on February 15 instead.

Updated: February 13, 2020 02:53 PM

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