Valentine’s Day: love it or hate it?

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Valentine’s Day, believe it or not, used to be a religious festival. It originated as a Christian feast day to honour two Christian martyrs (both named St. Valentine). Since then, however, it has become an almost entirely secular celebration – a day to celebrate love. Along with this secularisation has come extreme commercialisation. No doubt the name conjures up images of red roses, chocolate boxes and expensive presents, and social media has played its role in intensifying these connotations. Come 14th February, timelines are flooded with photos of couples celebrating their love in the most extravagant of ways.

The day is a reminder of the importance – even amid our busy lives – to spend quality time with the people I love

But social media and the (often misleading) veneer that it creates is not everything, and it is equally valid to celebrate love – romantic, platonic and familial – in much smaller, simpler ways. For me, Valentine’s Day doesn’t necessarily mean getting dressed up for a fancy dinner, or being spoiled with chocolates and flowers. Instead, the day is just a reminder of the importance – even amid our busy lives – to spend quality time with the people I love. A film night with my friends, a cosy evening in with my partner or even just a phone call with my mum are all great ways to mark the day. After all, Valentine’s Day is not really about money, roses or chocolate, but simply about cherishing those relationships that mean something to you.

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February the 14th is almost upon us. Cue the loved-up couples, a Tesco chocolate section rampage, and seductive red roses overtaking your Instagram feed. Valentine’s Day has become a celebration of romantic love, and many people think that it is a day reserved only for those who have found the one. A day dedicated to the lovers amongst us, and so, a day that excludes those that aren’t loved up. Yet, many forget that love takes all forms: yes, it can be romantic, but there is also philia (love of friends), philautia (self-love), and storge (familial love). Love has no fixed definition, and all these categories of love deserve to be celebrated on Valentine’s Day. You could go out for a meal with your besties, take yourself out for a coffee, or call a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while. Valentine’s Day honours whatever love is most important to you right now. So, there are no excuses to let the day go to waste: embrace and spread the love.

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Like many cynical young people, I believe that Valentine’s day is a capitalist construct, another holiday designed to get money out of people with teddy bears the size of doors, too many red roses to count and cards with puns which are a crime against humanity. You might think, then, that for me Valentine’s Day is just another day.

And it would be, if I hadn’t grown up with my Dad, who has provided one constant event to make the day special. He has, for the last 20 years, played secret admirer, gifting me a card every year from “x”, who despite having the same handwriting as him is “definitely not him”. It’s a tradition which has continued during my time at University, with the card now arriving one to two days either side of the 14th rather than being mysteriously posted through the door. It’s a reminder from him that my sister and I are always worthy enough for a secret admirer.

While the day may be a capitalist construct, it’s also for family and traditions

So while the day may be a capitalist construct, it’s also for family and traditions, even when I am no longer living at home, and a way to make sure, every year, that I know what day it is.

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A push and pull between the rose-tinted image and the stark reality, Valentine’s Day has always been my favourite holiday. Colouring the whole month in shades of red, it leaves its mark in February, asking if you will partake in it. Perhaps they are right – that this is a capitalistic delusion – and yet I cannot help but fawn over the fact that I can paint my nails red and wear my favourite outfit, almost as though it’s a festival. The stores are filled with bouquets of red roses, and the sweetest heart shaped décor you can only get once a year (even measuring spoons!).

However, like Christmas, the day is never as sweet as the build-up of the month. The flowers, the necklace, even the homemade cake, each gesture hollower than the next, as though you are forced to give these things to your partner on this day, worse even than Christmas presents as the answers are given to us from childhood. I suppose there’s a difference between observing and partaking in Valentine’s Day. I prefer to savour it alone, to maintain this image of it in my head, to keep my glasses on, as a witness from the outside.

However, like Christmas, the day is never as sweet as the build-up of the month

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In the midst of the winter blues, the strange martyrdom of St Valentine emerges as a day to celebrate love. I admit, when I was younger, I never saw the appeal of Valentine’s Day (though this may have been because the roses my parents were buying me were just not the same as the ones characters were receiving in my favourite romantic comedies). For many years, I pushed it aside as a cheesy day that I was clearly just too good for.

Since arriving at university, I have acquired a newfound appreciation for the holiday. Maybe it’s all the tiktoks I see about romanticizing life to the fullest. Or it may be because of moving abroad, and missing the silly jokes my family would crack on this day. Either way, I have a new understanding of the strength of love. This year, I also resolved to periodically take a moment to recognize my loved ones, and all they do to make me happy even in tough times. And I can’t think of a better time to start doing that than on Valentine’s Day!

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From the flowers and chocolates to dinner dates and lavish celebrations, Valentine’s Day hasn’t been a holiday of much importance to me in the past. With shelves cluttered with gifts and social media flooded with posts, it is a holiday that is hard to miss. In recent years, the day has been time spent laughing about the occasion with friends or celebrating a ‘Galentine’s’.

Valentine’s Day is just an extra little reminder to give love and to remember how much I am loved

Now, as Valentine’s Day comes around again, I’m spending my second year with my partner, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the holiday. As much as I’ve somewhat ignored the festivities in the past, it’s a wonderful opportunity to spend more time together and make an excuse for a date night or fun activity. I adore brainstorming where to go and new places to explore, as well as trying all types of different cuisine, which seems to be our personal tradition. However, it’s not all lavish, as I like to spend time appreciating the love the day reminds us to celebrate. And so, for me, Valentine’s Day is just an extra little reminder to give love and to remember how much I am loved by not only my partner, but all those who I care for and who care for me in my life, even if it is a little cheesy!

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Valentine’s Day is almost upon us again and whether you love or loathe the day, it is a day steeped in tradition, marked by the celebration of love in its many forms – familial, friendship and romantic. From heart-shaped chocolates to red bouquets, Valentine’s Day is a time to express love and affection for those closest to you.

In the past, I have often viewed Valentine’s Day with a sense of comedic cynicism and have often celebrated a ‘Galentine’s Day’ with friends instead. In many ways, Valentine’s Day has become a highly commercialised construct, with companies utilising the day to market a mass of ‘Valentine’s products’ to consumers. Yet, despite this, it is important to remember that the true essence of Valentine’s Day transcends this materialistic aspect. While gifts can be a beautiful way of expressing love, it is not the only way, and simple acts of kindness, such as cooking a meal or taking the evening off to spend some quality time can carry far more meaning.

For me, Valentine’s Day has become a special day to spend time with my partner, creating memories that we will both cherish forever. Whether it’s a night in, a meal out or a trip to the bowling alley, the day serves as a sweet and welcome reminder of the love that we share, although we don’t need Valentine’s Day to remind us of that.

Image Credit: Amelie Mitchell

https://www.dunelm.org.uk/donations/palatinate

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