Suppose the table linens are a fanciful white, the chairs are rickety and a cluster of red roses remains as a centerpiece for me to knock over with my elbows. Imagine this restaurant already has a set menu of lamb chops, lobster bisque and arugula salad, none of which I eat. At the top of the menu, in swirly letters, it reads: “Dinner For Two.”
In 2019, the National Retail Federation reported a whopping $20.7 billion was spent on Valentine’s Day, with the average American spending $161.91. All this money seems to deflate any romanticism the modern-day idea of love represents. For some, it’s easy to idly refuse the modern-day idea of love because it’s painful to wonder who gets rich off the public’s attempt at romanticism.
Most Valentine’s Day itineraries include a romantic, candle-lit dinner or perhaps a movie. The year I knocked over the bouquet of roses and glasses of water with my dinner date, we had exactly 30 minutes to eat because our table was fully booked for the rest of the evening. Rest assured, none of that was romantic.
That isn’t to say spending money is against the spirit of Valentine’s Day. Nowadays, most couples splurge by exchanging gifts, cards or chocolates. When I was younger, my mom bought my siblings and me silky pajamas, which I adored. Valentine’s Day is an occasion to celebrate the people you love. It’s just when love makes you feel so pressured that you overspend that there’s a problem.
Recent traditions like Galentine’s Day seek to trivialize such painstaking celebrations for single folks like me.
Looking into this holiday more and more proposes the jarring idea that the origins of Valentine’s Day are perturbing and rather unpleasant.
Valentine’s Day originated as a Roman feast from Feb. 13 to 15 in the festival of Lupercalia. Lupercalia honors the Roman fertility God Lupercus and was said to begin after the sacrifice of a goat.
There are numerous folk legends responsible for what is today a Western celebration of love, however commercial. Moreover, Valentine’s Day can also be seen as a coinciding cultural and religious phenomenon.
As one legend goes, the Roman priest Saint Valentine was imprisoned for persecuting Christians. While being behind bars, it’s believed Saint Valentine healed the daughter of his jailor, Julia, from blindness just before he was executed. Then Saint Valentine was sensationalized as a hero for performing this glorious miracle on Feb. 14, the day of his decapitation.
Another story follows the Romans’ ancient parade on Valentine’s Day, which involved dog sacrifices, a matchmaking lottery and brutal beatings of women, as they believed it would enhance fertility.
It’s bewildering to learn about the origins of this day because it’s a wonder what all this history has to do with celebrations today? Not only do Americans feel inclined to spend money on Valentine's Day, but they feel inclined to make this day mean something.
In my experience, it’s easy to get caught up in the spectacle of Valentine’s Day. Every year, I internally promise I’ll stop indulging in the spirit of the day and stop placing so much significance on what it’s supposed to mean. Whereafter I make plans for Valentine’s Day, and I think, “What’s so harmful about a simple date and food over a few white-light candles, anyway?”
Like clockwork, I begin to glimpse crimson red and light pink everywhere. I see hearts plastered on bulletins and flyers, or I spy advertisements about special offers for Valentine’s Day hung around MU campus. It’s all around me; it’s all anyone is talking about. I spend hours daydreaming about what outfit I’m going to wear when I should, in fact, be focusing on the test material in this lecture. The class ends, and I’ve only jotted down a couple of sentences worth of notes, but hey, I’ve decided on a final sock choice for the evening.
In my mind, the day is never as special as all the effort leading up to the actual moment of Valentine’s Day, when I’m eye-to-eye with my date at dinner. Regardless of the historical influences of Valentine’s Day, I still contemplate what this day means for the modern attempt at love. And when Feb. 14 is over and gone, we simply move on and remember.