Why I'll be skipping Valentine's Day even though I'm in a relationship
I'm not averse to a spot of soppiness, but I do dislike the ever-increasing commercialisation of this arbitrary day
Let’s clear something up: Valentine’s Day, as we all love or loathe it today, is not a thing.
In a nutshell, it's become a highly commercialised day that forces many of us in relationships to unnecessarily spend lots of money, and those of us who are single to feel bad about the fact that they aren't being forced to unnecessarily spend lots of money. Such is the power of marketing.
I'm engaged, I'm in love, but I'm saying "no" to all this nonsense.
But, first, let's go back to the beginning...
Valentine’s Day back then
A quick history lesson: A bit of ye old internet research confirms that the origins of this day are actually shrouded in all sorts of myth and legend (go figure). One story tells of a Catholic saint called Valentine, who was a priest serving in Rome during the third century, and defied the then emperor after he outlawed marriage for young men (he believed single male soldiers were more effective when not distracted by wives and families). Valentine continued to marry young lovers in secret, so he was put to death.
Another Valentine, it is said, sent what could have been the first “valentine” from jail, to a girl he fell in love with, signing off “from your Valentine”, a phrase that’s still used today.
The thing is, the Catholic Church recognises a number of saints called Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom have been linked to this “holiday” at some point. That’s why many believe the day marks his death or burial.
Others, however, believe it was a pope from what is now Tunisia who really started it all. The tale goes that Pope Gelasius I wanted to “Christianise” a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia, which involved women being slapped by a sacrificed goat’s hide before they added a slip of paper with their names on to an urn for the city’s bachelors to pick out. When a man chose a woman’s name, they would become companions for the following year (this, apparently, implanted the seeds of love, as these companionships would often end in marriage). So the pope outlawed it, and declared February 14 as Valentine’s Day.
Later on, they say, in the Middle Ages, is when the day really became synonymous with love. This was driven largely by the fact that it fell at the same time as the beginning of birds' mating season.
The story I like best, however, is the one that goes like this: Hallmark, the oldest and largest manufacturer of greeting cards in the US, had a brilliantly strategic marketing team that decided to invent this “holiday” in order to sell bucket loads of inventory en masse.
Call me a cynic – it just sounds about right to me.
Valentine’s Day today
Let’s put this shady history aside for a moment, and focus on what Valentine’s Day is like today, particularly in the UAE. One hotel is charging Dh119,000 for a one-night staycation package. A quick scan of our list of dining deals for loved-up couples on February 14 reveals prices range from a reasonable Dh249 per pair for a three-course menu to enjoy by the sea to an extortionate Dh2,500 for a four-course meal to enjoy by the sea. Meanwhile, in the world of fashion, Dolce & Gabbana is letting customers hand-paint the name of their loved one on to its special St Valentine sneakers this month (priced at just over Dh2,000).
Over in the UK, the country’s most budget-friendly shop, Poundland, made thousands of pounds when it sold 20,000 of its £1 engagement rings within a week in the lead up to this Thursday.
Even if you're single or, like me, you don’t like Valentine’s Day, places have found a way to capitalise on that, too. Starting from Dh175, you can go and smash some TVs at Smash Room in Dubai’s Al Quoz. From Dh250, you can burn some stuff at Double Decker Pub.
Oh, a company here is also charging Dh699 so you can get yourself delivered in a giant box to your valentine. Just what they need.
What’s it all about?
The oldest known valentine was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was locked up in the Tower of London (he’d been captured during the Battle of Agincourt). It’s part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London.
That, I can get on board with. A cute poem here, a handwritten declaration of love there. Heck, I can be as corny as the next person – my partner and I have pet names for each other and everything (I will not be divulging those here) – and my dislike of this “holiday” has nothing to do with any aversion to soppiness.
And while I’m not particularly anti-capitalist, either – I’m all for supporting local and small businesses – what I can’t get onboard with is that every year, earlier and earlier, we’re spammed by companies looking to cash in on a day that, fundamentally, is supposed to be a celebration of love, not materialism.
Like in the lead up to Christmas, we seem to have forgotten that.
That’s why, this Thursday, I’ll be sending my fiance a WhatsApp message. It won’t be a poem, just a little reminder that I do love him (and will love him even more if he has the dishes done by the time I get home).
Updated: February 12, 2019 11:38 AM