Did you know that Saint Valentine’s actual skull is on display in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin in Rome?
Think about that on Friday as you rush to the store to buy some cheaply made stuffed bear. And then consider the fact that the skull may not actually belong to the Saint Valentine of legend — in part because scholars don’t really agree on which Saint Valentine WAS the Saint Valentine, and even if they did, nobody knows what he actually did in life. Facts about old Val are as scarce as legends are plentiful.
Valentine’s Day is not really about him anymore, if it ever was. These days, depending on your relative levels of romance and cynicism, Valentine’s Day is either about expressing love or crass commercialism. The former is represented by the millions of poems written or memorized each year by earnest young lovers. The latter is represented by chalky candy hearts and $100 rose bouquets that would go for $30 any other time of year.
So where does that leave those of us who value romance and symbolic gestures but who also think the whole Valentine-industrial complex is an evil, soulless meat-grinder, designed to chew up any genuine emotion and spit it out on the other end in a bloody, ravaged lump? I, for one, tend to just go ahead and play into it.
I mean, yeah, a case could be made that rational people should just ignore Valentine’s Day, because it’s a base money-grab and Hallmark is the devil. But that same argument could be made about a lot of things we cherish in modern American society, including Christmas and the Super Bowl. The key is to take from all of those things, Valentine’s Day included, only what you want.
If you enjoy fancy, expensive dinners with your significant other or buying flowers or whatever, then make your Valentine’s Day about that and leave the rest out. If you hate the hacky syrup sentiment of Hallmark, buy a blank card and write something from the heart. (Don’t have the words? Look up some Yeats; guy knew how to turn a phrase.) If you don’t like the idea of spending money, or you feel pressured to do so by contemporary standards, then make something instead. Carve a keepsake box, mix a CD, cook dinner at home. Just make some kind of gesture.
My point is, you can make Valentine’s Day your own. You don’t have to play into all of the clichés to celebrate it. Yes, sure, fine, OK, it’s a made-up holiday. But to varying degrees, all holidays are made up. And there are worse things than love to dedicate one to. And if that sounds contradictory — acknowledging the less-than-pure motivations behind Valentine’s Day marketing while celebrating the day anyway — that’s OK.
Yeats said, “What can be explained is not poetry.” And I say, “Come on man. Some dude’s skull is on display in some church; the least you could do is buy some flowers or cook a meal.”
— The Indoorsman