Valentine’s Day and the Culture of Commercialism
Every February 14th, we engage in the indulgence of chocolates and romantic dates known as Valentine’s Day. The holiday has existed for millennia, but only became the day we currently recognize in more recent times. For some, it is a testament to love and a day to shower a significant other with gifts to display love and affection. For others, it is a trap concocted by corporations in order to pressure the masses into spending more and more money. So, what is Valentine’s Day? There is no clear answer. But now more than ever, we can shape the day to better align with our values and turn yet another corporate money grab into something more special.
Humans have a long history of traditions and holidays. Prior to it being declared Valentine’s Day, Ancient Romans celebrated February 14th with the Feast of Lupercalia as far back as 300 B.C. Despite Valentine’s Day having obvious financial gain for corporations, it continues the pattern of annual traditions that people have had since the early days of civilization. We have used these days in positive ways – to celebrate, rest, and spend time with family and friends. They were days just like any other until humans imbued them with meaning through our actions. Valentine’s Day may not have profound spiritual or historical origins like some holidays, but we can take action to make it mean something more for everyone.
The University of Agriculture in Faisalabad, a post-secondary institution in Pakistan, is doing just that. With Valentine’s Day becoming popular in the region, public celebrations were banned in 2017. The University has opted to instead celebrate the day their own way, focusing on women empowerment and naming it ‘Sister’s Day.’ Just as the Feast of Lupercalia evolved, so too can Valentine’s Day.
Jefferey Alexander, a Yale sociologist, has noted that rituals have always helped humans feel a sense of solidarity. He refers to gifts as “materializations of meanings and emotions.” By taking part in the holiday in the way that matches our own values, just as the students at the University of Agriculture have done, we are able to take part in that ritual and improve our sense of belonging.
Instead of focusing on the holiday’s negative aspects, such as overpriced superficial gifts and the overemphasis on romance, try to look at Valentine’s Day from a broader perspective. Consider how our modern holidays are primarily evolutions of older traditions, and the underlying thread connecting them is the love and bond between fellow people. Take advantage of the day to reflect on the important people in your life, what you can do for them, and what you can do better. These may be romantic partners, relatives, friends, colleagues, or even acquaintances. This is an opportunity to strengthen those bonds. It could be through small tokens of appreciation you can reasonably afford. Even without spending money, you can put your love for that person into action by taking the time and energy to make them something or spend the day with them.
Valentine’s Day is definitely a corporate invention for the sake of profit. However, being bitter about this and avoiding it completely only feeds into negativity. By focusing on the positive aspects of the day and the significance of traditions throughout the history of civilization, you can take positive steps to strengthen your relationships and bring another ray of positivity into a world wrought with problems. Actions speak louder than words. They also speak far louder than commercialism.
Oppenheim, Maya. “Pakistan university rebrands Valentine’s Day as ‘Sister’s Day’ with free headscarves for women’.” Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/asia/pakistan-university-valentines-day-sisters-free-headscarves-faisalabad-university-a8728681.html
Zareva, Teodora. “How did Valentine’s Day become so commercial – and is it a bad thing?” Big Think. https://bigthink.com/design-for-good/the-history-and-commercialization-of-valentines-day