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On Valentine's Day
heteronormative
catvalente
I posted this essay on Valentine's Day last year. It is everything I want to say on the subject, and I want to say it again this year. So here is the re-post, which will likely be annual from here on out, until everyone stops calling it a Hallmark Holiday. Here's wishing you all a happy Geoff-day.

***

I have never understood the desire to stomp all over Valentine's Day and snuff it out. Every year I look over my friends' list and it's a litany of "This is a fake Hallmark holiday and no one should celebrate it" and "I hate this day, who's with me?" and my personal favorite guilt trip: "If you REALLY loved your partner, you'd treat them specially every day."

I don't get it. I don't understand the fervor to destroy a holiday. To force others to see it through the same black glasses. To shame anyone who celebrates the 14th with anything other than bile, vitriol, and the occasional superior sneer.

I know that most of us were shunned on Valentine's Day in school. Believe me, my little cubby was empty, just like yours, and I yearned for a construction paper heart from boy after boy--and never got them. I understand that there is a history of trauma, and the standard geek reaction to past trauma is to organize the world so that there is no chance of that trauma re-occurring. Thus, Valentine's Day must be killed.

But here's the thing. This world is a beautiful place, but it is also often dark, and cold, and unfeeling, and life slips by, not because it is short, but because it is so difficult to hold onto. Holidays, rituals, these things demarcate the time. They remind us of the sharpness of pleasure and the nearness of death. They tell us when the sun leaves, and when it comes back. They tell us to dance and they tell us to sleep. They tell us who we are, who we have been since we lived on the savannah and hoped to taste cheetah before we died. I know we're all punk rock rebels, but the paleolithic joy of fucking in the fields and dancing around a fire doesn't go away just because certain of us would like to think we're beyond that. This world needs more holidays, not less. More ritual, the gorgeous, flexible, non-dogmatic kind that isn't about religion but about ecstasy in the sheer humanness of our bodies and souls. More chances to reach out, to sing, to love, to bedeck ourselves in ritual colors and become splendid as the year turns around.

And no, I'm sorry. It doesn't work to say "make every day special." First of all, most of you know damn well that you don't shower your partner with gifts and adoration and that most precious of things: dedicated, mindful time every day of the year. Even the best relationship is not a 24/7 orgiastic festival of plenty and perfect moments. No human can sustain it. If every day is special, none of them are. If every day is special, specialness becomes monotony. What makes days special is the time between, the anticipation of a the day, the planning, the surprises, coming together, cooking, playing, reveling in sheer time, watching the dedicated colors and rituals that wire our brain for pleasure spring up in the world to remind us that we live in it. The entire purpose of holidays is that they are a kind of otherworld we step into, full of special symbols, that informs and shapes everyday life--and some of life, no matter how some bloggers would like to deny it in their Grinchitude, is always everyday.

We celebrate the harvest. We celebrate the spring. We celebrate birthdays and death-days and the beginning of the year and the end of the year. We celebrate our parents and labor and Presidents. What in the world is so terribly wrong with celebrating love? I know not all of us have partners, but it is a rare soul who is without love of any kind. What kind of shrunken, sour heart does it take to insist that everyone else stop delighting in ritual and love? So few of us post about the magic of holidays--I think they're ashamed to. It's not cool to take unabashed pleasure in the silly and the soft-hearted.

As for the commercialism of it--well. It is commercial. So is every holiday, yet somehow we don't stomp all over Easter the way we tar and feather Valentine's Day. Valentine's Day is no more a fake holiday than any other. If I hear someone call it a Hallmark holiday I'm actually going to scream. I'm only going to say this once:

Valentine's Day, boys and girls, entered the Western mind in Chaucer's Parlement of Foules, fully-realized as a day to celebrate love via an obscure saint, with red hearts and everything. Yes, celebrated in an allegorical bird-nation, but guess what? That makes it even more awesome. I will take a holiday my buddy Geoff invented over almost any other. If I had my way, we'd start exchanging bird-themed gifts and ditch Cupid.

This is a great holiday. It's pure physical, sensual pleasure, divorced from any dogma at this point. Saint whatever. Pass the sex and food.

And as a medieval holiday, it has quite a long pedigree, thank you very much, even if you don't count in the Lupercalia (which you really shouldn't, unless wolf skins play a large part in your personal celebrations. If so, more power to you). The fact is, some human made up every single holiday there is. They're ALL fake. No one is more real or authentic than any other. At least this one was invented by a broke poet instead of a bunch of sex-starved priests. We live in a postmodern world--everything is what we make it. If Hallmark wants to force mainstream kids to buy jewelry they can't afford, they're more than welcome. I don't have to care about that, or take part in it. But I also don't have to get up on a soapbox and crush their joy in it. I know better. I know this day is an act of literature made flesh. But their world is not less valid for being Geoff-less.

And more than Geoff--think about it for a second. In the midst of winter, we are encouraged to come together and have sex (let's not be coy.) To escape the snow and ice in each others' bodies. The colors are red and rose and white--the colors of fire in the winter, of blood, of flesh, survival even in the barren times. We exchange hearts, the very vital core of our bodies. It is the last holiday before spring, to remind us that the fertile world will come again, with flowers and sweetness and love. Even surrounded by death, by blood on the snow, be it St. Valentine's blood or your own, life will win out. The traditional food is chocolate--which can be preserved through the winter and does not rot, full of sugar and fat which keep our bodies going through lean times. This holiday is as old as time: o world, even in the freezing storm, come together, make love, make children, feast, smile, and know the sun is coming soon.

Seriously, you have to stop trying to take that away. If you remove ritual from the world, you leave it greyer, and sadder, and all you have in its place is the triumph of having ruined something another person loved, which is a shallow and bitter triumph indeed. Get down off the soapbox, have a little chocolate, look out at the melting snow, and say something kind to someone you love. To be human is to take part in ritual, to demarcate the time with feasting and song and vestments and ecstasy. Life slips by, so very fast. Spend it in the practice of joy, not the destruction of it.

Happy Valentine's Day. Geoff bless us. Every one.

Thank you for articulating why I simultaneously love and am ambivalent about the holiday. For me, it's never been a romantic holiday- I've never been in a relationship for this particular day. Thus, all through high school and college my friends and I took it as a day to buy a big bag of candy and distribute it amongst ourselves and do something fun, like throw a costume tea party, for the day and revel in the most special of people in our lives- each other.

It's only now, as a grad student, that I've run into resenting the day. Not so much the day itself, because I agree with what you say about the need for ritual (I am a Classicist after all) but I get annoyed with people. If I had a box of chocolates for every person who is surprised that I don't have plans other than watching Indiana Jones with a bottle of good Whiskey and getting some research done for or who has said "oh, you're single? I'm so sorry." or "you'd better hurry up and find a boy quickly! Valentines day is soon!", I'd be throwing chocolates out the window like tickertape.

I think it's more the expectation that some people press on others to celebrate the holiday that makes me cranky. I don't want your sympathy, I'm quite happy being single and enjoying how much love is in my life that is non-romantic. So, poo on them. I just won't share my Whiskey with them.

Wow, no one has ever said anything like that to me, that's awful.Indiana Jones sounds awesome though.

Thanks! I'm looking forward to it. I have massive crush on that man even if the part of me that's going for the archaeology PhD is going "aaaaaaaaaahhhh! Provenance!" XD

Hope the day is full of kitty snuggles and husband love. I clicked on your Valentinr thing- hope the full box makes up for the formerly empty cubbies

Edited at 2010-02-13 11:03 pm (UTC)