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February 14, 2018

In Defense of Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day is a day of love. What's there to protest?

Nowadays, Valentine’s Day gets a lot of flack. It’s a Hallmark Holiday, they say, yet another consumerist excuse to fill our mouths with sugar and relish box after box of exquisitely wrapped chocolate. It’s lost its meaning, some say, and has become more about receiving than giving, following the trajectory of the excessively consumerized 21st Century ChristmasTM . 

But I don’t think Valentine’s has been lost to Hallmark just yet. Sure, the sweethearts and bouquets and consumerized displays of affection can be a bit excessive at times, but given all of the hate and crime and violence so pervasive in our world, what’s wrong with setting aside a single day for love? Really, there is worse one could celebrate. Designating a day for love—no matter how consumerized—should be the least of our concerns.  

Think back to your first February 14 in elementary school. Remember the mailboxes everyone would decorate? Remember the masses of pink and red construction paper, the messiness of the Elmer’s all purpose glue? Remember the sweethearts, the Hershey’s kisses, the heart-shaped Dove chocolates wrapped in shimmery red foil, the bucketfuls of Love You’s and Be Mine’s?  

Sure, a list like this can get a bit saccharine. But it’s less the candy I remember, and more the experiences behind the candy. I remember the girl who packaged each M&M packet into a handmade origami box, to be gifted thoughtfully to each of her 25 classmates. I remember the boy who meticulously crafted Valentine’s cards shaped like mice from construction paper hearts. I remember handwriting appreciation notes for each of my peers, and feeling flabbergasted upon learning that February 14 is called Valentine’s, not “Valentimes.”  

I’m not saying that the criticism of Valentine’s Day as a grossly consumerized holiday is without merit. Rather, in the grand scheme of things, I see Valentine’s Day as a relatively innocuous holiday, even for its opponents. Does cutting out paper hearts, buying boxes of chocolate, or going on romantic dates hurt anyone? Absolutely not. And has a reminder to say “I love you” to those we care about ever hurt? No again. 

To be clear, I’m not just talking about romantic love—I see no reason why Valentine’s should be set aside only for those in a relationship, regardless of what the Hallmark cards say. Why limit a holiday that has such a profound potential for love? Why restrict it to only the romantic kind? Why exclude on a holiday that’s primary purpose is to include and make others feel loved?    

I understand that Valentine’s may need a little 21st century revamping. The media’s no help when it comes to framing this holiday as inclusive and celebratory of all types of love. And yes, the stigma against being single on Valentine’s definitely needs to go. But to dismiss this holiday just because it’s imperfect in the status quo is to miss a golden opportunity for lifting up love in this world. Valentine’s as a day needs revision. But the concept of reserving a mere 24 hours a year for love does not.  

To me, the fact that some consider this holiday a candied calamity invalidates the real calamities of our time. It’s a year late, but in the words of John Oliver in his final Last Week Tonight episode of 2016, 2016 sucked. It saw Brexit, the election of Trump, the world’s continued ambivalence to one of the greatest refugee crises in history, the rise of Zika, the ensuing of the Flint water crisis, among other catastrophes too multitudinous to fully engage with here. As Oliver aptly put it, 2016 was an “uncommonly shitty year.” And while memes about 2017 being the worst year ever were not nearly as abundant, 2017 definitely still sucked. 

I say this all not to make you depressed—it is Valentine’s Day, after all. I’m just asking that the haters of Valentine’s qualify their claims. It’s okay not to like the holiday. It’s okay to dislike it, even. But to focus your efforts on criticizing this relatively harmless day is to wildly misdirect your energies. Criticize hate. Criticize violence. Criticize politics, even. But don’t criticize love.  

So I ask you to go out and enjoy your Valentine’s day. Eat your chocolate, buy your roses, and watch your trashy rom-coms as unapologetically as possible. Love others, and tell them that you love them, not just on Valentine’s Day, but on every day of the year. Most importantly, don’t feel ashamed about celebrating a day for love. After all, if there’s anything this world needs, I think it’s more of that.  

Meera Santhanam is a first-year in the College and an associate Viewpoints editor. 

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