Love hearts in a row

Consumerism, Actually

Nicola Biggerstaff – 17 February 2023

I’m not bitter about it, I’ve just never liked Valentine’s Day.

A common phrase because it’s true. Personally, I’ve never had a valentine on a certain day in February, but I could not care less about it. Flowers and chocolates are nice, but having them shoved in your face this time every year must get tedious after a while. What’s the motivation?

Now a misguided cross between Black Friday and a standard anniversary, Valentine’s Day was originally a celebration of the life of Saint Valentine (or the Roman Valentinus), who is said to have continued to minister for the Christian faith, including performing marriages, whilst it was still outlawed in the Roman Empire during the 3rd century A.D., for which he was persecuted and eventually sentenced to death by Emperor Claudius II.

He became a martyr of the Christian faith following his execution on the 14th of February 269 or 270 A.D., and named a Saint after it was claimed he cured the blindness of Judge Asterius’ daughter whilst under house arrest. For this it is said he was forgiven, and the judge along with his entire family are said to have converted and been baptised.

Originally marked with an annual feast, it is thought the romantic connotations originate from Chaucer’s The Parliament of Fowles, a poem which makes reference to birds choosing their mates for the year on ‘seynt valentynes day’. It could also have originated with the coinciding of the feast with the ancient pagan festival of Lupercalia, celebrating the gods of love, marriage and fertility.

So how did we go from this to gift giving, fancy dinners and soppy Facebook picture collages? Why, capitalism of course. It was the west who conjured up the idea of gift giving for Valentine’s Day, and it is thought that we are spending more and more on gifts and cards every year, with the average person spending around £130 last year ($175).

I spent Valentine’s Day last year working a back shift in a shop. The amount of cheap plastic cards and tat masquerading as gifts we had to stuff on shelves until full to the brim in the days beforehand made me want to weep – even more so when they all went on to sell out. Even now, every so often, I think about the five men who came in on the big night to ask me if we had any cards left, particularly the one who then went on to ask me for gift ideas.

This will go out later this week, however I’m currently writing this on Valentine’s Day, perfectly happy with having another ordinary day in front of me: I’ll work until this evening, before I make myself a meal and perhaps go for a walk. I’ll call my parents to catch up with them before settling on the couch to watch something awful on telly before going to bed. Sounds monotonous, but nonetheless just another day of subtle rebellion by refusing to do anything when capitalism tells me I must consume.

I’m not long back from a weekend away with my friend to Aberdeen, and some of the bars we frequented made reference to this being ‘Galentine’s weekend’, an emerging trend of acknowledging platonic friendships as just as important as romantic relationships. We laughed at our unfortunate timing and almost immediately shrugged off the gimmick. On Saturday we went for brunch, begrudgingly surrounded by bright pink balloons and plastic flowers, we wandered around the shops and the art gallery, before retreating back to the hotel to get ready for the night. Outside of food and drink, which we would have been buying anyway, and a few bits and pieces we forgot to bring with us, not a penny was spent on frivolities, and yet it was still one of the best days of the year so far.

I think this contributes to my overall feeling of not missing out when it comes to Valentine’s Day: I have a great network around me already, our bonds having only grown stronger through the chaos of the last few years.

We all agreed to not spend a lot of money on gifts for each other for birthdays or Christmas, but will supplement throughout the year when we feel like cheering each other up. These ‘care packages’ we make for each other can often be the highlight of an awful week or month, having a little reminder of their presence in your life is important to have when you need it, not when it’s mandated.

These higher quality relationships means our standards are higher now: if you can only put up a caring front when prompted to by capitalism, then the commitment is false. The truth is, we wouldn’t need such a festivity to prove our love and commitment if we did truly love and commit to one another. The caring society we work so hard to promote would make such a day completely meaningless, why would we only take a day to acknowledge one another when we should be spending the other 364 days of the year doing this anyway? These are people we should be spoiling with our time, not our ability to buy.

We cannot let capitalism and consumerism rule over our relationships. It breaks our spirits and tries to pin a physical value to that which cannot be empirically measured. The concept of Valentine’s Day has never sat right with me, and I hope we can move away from this model of being coerced into proving our emotions with our ever scarcer money.

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