"The world is so full of a number of things, I'm sure we should all be as happy as kings." --Robert Louis Stevenson.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
In Defense of Valentine's Day
I had to defend Valentine's Day, after guests at my Chinese-New Year-themed Shabbat table looked incredulous when I distributed heart-decorated paper napkins with dessert. I'm used to defending Halloween, but Valentine's Day is so innocuous, so American and so un-religious, I've never before been called to its defense.
My response is that any day that encourages expressions of love and appreciation is fine by me. Scoffers who disdain commercialization, and lonely hearts who find the day a reminder of their sad status choose to use the occasion to reinforce their existant negativity. They could hand-write a loving note rather than make purchases, or spend the time cheering up ill or infirm neighbors, or ignore the holiday altogether, rather than wallow in glass-half-empty dourness.
My husband romantically brings me a daily bouquet from the grocery store that he picks out on his way home, and I didn't expect or want any special gift Sunday. But I see nothing wrong with "constructive guilt" if it spurs husbands (and wives) normally remiss to take a few minutes and spend a few bucks on a token of love. I consider it a good thing that our sorry economy can receive a temporary boost from balloons, flowers and even jewelry selected to please--or even placate--someone important.
It's a Jewish concept to repair negative feelings by investing in the object of your displeasure. So the little effort made to select and deliver any kind of Valentine works to improve relationships. Choosing and giving bring people closer. Very simple. No downside.
My Jewish friends don't like the day's association to Catholic Saint Valentine. Though he was added to a list of saints in 496 for being a martyr, even at that time it was noted that nobody knew exactly who he was or what he'd done. Geoffrey Chaucer apparently came up with the association of Valentine with love in a long love poem he wrote in the late 1300s, "Parliament of Fowls:" "And there was not any bird that is created through procreation that was not ready in her presence to hear her and receive her judgment. For this was Saint Valentine’s day, when every bird of every kind that men can imagine comes to this place to choose his mate." Yes, it's a poem about birds. I find this an unconvincing reason to assume all the elementary teachers festooning their classrooms with red hearts are performing religious service.
Now, I can see why curmudgeons eschew the power of dreaded social authority to dictate when or how they will express their love. On the other hand, curmudgeons are by definition crusty, ill-tempered and disagreeable. Fat chance they're demonstrative the rest of the year, either.
On the other hand, I personally consider it a bit unseemly to make frouffy home displays for the holiday, even if Valentine decor is the only thing in stores since Dec. 26. I make hand-made cards for my children and a few select others, and consider it a luxury to spend my limited time creating something specially for each of them.
What's wrong with celebrating love? We could all use more of it.
(above: St. Valentine receives a Rosary from the Virgin, by David Teniers III.)