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Letters from Proxima Thule

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On Valentine's Day
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.

Not only is this incredible (and echoing so much of what I feel about ritual, so much more eloquently than I could ever say it), but you just made this one soul love Valentine's day a little more. Thank you.

YES!! Thank you for saying this - I hope you don't mind, but I've posted a link to it in my journal.

I like Valentine's Day; I like the colors, the gifts, the tastes, the chance to show my loved one(s) that I do, in fact, love them...


This is a wonderfully-worded defense of something that I myself have always had problems with - I salute you for doing it. I've just always been leery of holidays for a variety of personal reasons (you touched on them in passing here), but the least I can do is not bring down other people's parades.

Yeah, this essay pretty much encapsulates why I get so giddy about your work, and push it on all my mythology geek friends. Thank you so much, Catherynne!

Thank you. I never saw anything wrong with Valentines' either, but could never get the words out as to why. You put it better than I ever could have.

I liked your xkcd .gif.
Then I saw that you'd included the ball pit; now I love it.

This makes me very happy. I went through a period in my very early twenties when I loathed every aspect of Valentine's Day...except what I was so busy loathing was the wan reflection of what it should be. So thank you for reminding me of what it really is.

While I detest the commercialization of Valentine's Day (and of most holidays), particularly when I hear such slogans as "Every kiss begins with Kay" (thank you for making women seem like money-grubbing whores and for implying that love can't exist without expensive jewelry), not least of which because I used to work in a jewelry store and hate diamonds as a result (counting the entire diamond stock 3x a day will do that to you)...

the holiday itself is probably one of the least objectionable of the various holidays popularly celebrated in America, and a day to celebrate love and romance is hardly something to get upset about on its own merits.

Oh how I loathe that slogan. Fortunately, having decided a few years ago not to watch broadcast tv (still watch netflix instant, hulu, dvds) I'm spared a lot of it.

I love this. tithenai posted a link to last year's post, which I reposted on my journal, and also quoted extensively from.

You've said everything I wanted to hear. Thank you.


Thank you.

(linked on my Facebook, btw. Hope that's OK. As many of your messages, this needs to be shared.)

I came here via stasia and am happy I did. You write so well. I am not a big fan of commercialism, as I think most objects end up in landfills. I really detest Debeers and Hallmark for different reasons. All of this you said and I agree - it isn't going away any time soon if ever. It is a part of our lives and our holidays.

But I am a big fan of ritual, spirituality and sensual pleasures. Maybe the biggest fan of all. I think you have summed all of this up so well that it couldn't be said any better by anyone. Love is the best gift in the world and celebrating love is something that no one should have an issue with. Even if it is celebrating the love of yourself.

Thank you.

I've been thinking about the commercialism and many people's reaction to it. And it reminded me of this quote, not about Valentine's Day but about music, from composer Michael Kamen:
Music was not invented to make people rich, to keep people dancing or to sell soap on the radio or television for that matter or to accompany an elevator ride. That isn't the purpose of music. It's for planting corn and making love and for celebrating the birth of your children and the death of your parents. The things that make life profound are the things that make music work.

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"as you say, there's SOME love in everyone's life. "

That's not what the OP said; it said, "it is a rare soul who is without love of any kind."

There are those of us with no love in our lives, and in all the world I think it may be uncommon, but not rare. We may be easily overlooked by you in your privilege, but we are here.

That said, by all means celebrate love, and life, and pleasure. They will never be equally distributed; all the more reason to celebrate them where they are found.

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What a wonderful post.

We've been snowed in for a week (it's nearly 1/2 a mile to our mailbox or our closest neighbor) so we've lost track of the days a bit. On Friday I realized Valentine's day was coming up and I told my 6 year old son it was Sunday. I awoke this morning to find him working away on Valentines made of post-it notes for us, including the cat, because he "loves us all."

I think it will be a good day. Happy Valentine's Day to you too.

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My beef with it is the vast over-emphasis on the 'if you're not married/dating/having babies/in romantic love right now, you're doing it wrong'. Which is sad, and I think wasteful of the whole range of love out there in this brilliant world. And it should be celebrated. And when it feels like there's no room in the world for me to go 'I love you' to ever single person I love because it's not the 'right' kind of love, there's a problem.

So, while I agree with most of your sentiments here, I can still wish there would be a shift in the focus of the holiday, yeah?

I don't know. Should couples and romantic love have no celebration then?

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