By BROOKE AUBIN
When we think of Valentine’s Day, there are a few staple things that come to mind. Extravagant bouquets, giant teddy bears, boxes of chocolates, and romantic candlelit dinners are just a few things that our society has deemed to contain the essence of the holiday. What do all of these things have in common? To quote ABBA: “money, money, money.”
Was it always this way? To put it simply, no! No one truly knows how it started, but most sources find traces of the holiday in an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia, which celebrated the coming of spring via fertility rituals and the designating of couples. If this reminds you more of 2019 horror movie Midsommer than of the Hallmark holiday of today, you wouldn’t be alone. But, it all started to change in the 5th century when Pope Gelacius I renamed the celebration St. Valentine’s Day. By the 14th century, February 14th was known as a day of romance, and it slowly started to morph into the holiday we all know today.
To say that people have strong opinions on Valentine’s Day would be a severe understatement. Some individuals believe it to be a consumerist nightmare, as one source told The Torch, “Valentine’s Day isn’t really about love anymore…it’s turned into a competition for Hallmark, Walmart, and other brands to make the most money.” It is true that retailers do make quite a profit on chocolates and stuffed animals: the National Retail Federation reported that Americans collectively spent over $20 billion on Valentine’s Day presents in 2019, and that number is expected to be even more for 2020.
In addition to the pressure to spend big bucks on extravagant dinners, jewelry, or chocolate boxes, the social pressure that comes along with Valentine’s Day can be daunting. For single people, the holiday may mean nothing, or, worse, that they “need” to have a significant other. In fact, Valentine’s Day advertising is full of couples, and even restaurants have special deals if you bring your date. All of the couple-centric campaigns this time of year can be a bit of a gut-punch to those without a significant other.
Though it’s easy to be cynical about the commercialism of Valentine’s Day, it’s important to think about what it means outside of Hallmark cards and cheesy movies. The Torch chatted with Rosie Bell, a senior at UMass Dartmouth. “Valentine’s Day is something quickly deemed ‘commercial’ and stupid by American culture, but other cultures have taken it and RUN with it,” she says. “So, something that was once commercial is now a cherished and important holiday, like Mother’s or Father’s Day, because love is considered such a sincerely important thing to make a day about in many non-white cultures.”
The cynical view of Valentine’s Day is often common, but people are beginning to look for silver linings. As Rosie Bell said, the holiday means more than just gifts in cultures outside of the US. Even those without romantic partners are getting into the spirit, with Galentine’s Day/Palentine’s Day becoming even more popular as people start to use the holiday to celebrate platonic love. Sara Swanson, senior at UMass Dartmouth agrees: “I love love, and it doesn’t have to be romantic love that you celebrate!”
Honestly, though it has its flaws, I believe Valentine’s Day is ultimately good. Walking around campus on February 14th, it filled me with joy to see people carrying around flowers and cookies that were being given out in the campus center, wearing red and pink, and even hearing jazz music playing in the auditorium lobby to get people in the spirit. It is a nice break to remind ourselves that there is love in the world, and that love can come from anything: friends, partners, family, and even pets!
Love can come from anyone and anywhere, and you can even celebrate Love Day without anyone else. As Connor Leamy, English major at UMassD says, “Valentine’s Day can even just be a self-love day for nobody but you. So I’m down with Valentine’s Day!” I agree with Connor, and say: love yourself this Valentine’s Day! No matter your opinion on the holiday, go raid your local Target/CVS for those day-after candy sales, put on some Netflix, meditate, and make this Valentine’s Day about self-love.