To the chagrin of many, and the delight of others, Valentine’s Day is next week. In case you hadn’t noticed all of the red hearts filled with chocolate lining your local grocery store aisles.
February 14th marks the day which some anticipate with breathless excitement, which some dub “Singles Awareness Day,” and which others brush it off as a “commercialized, fabricated holiday” meant to boost retail sales of florists and candy shops.
Depending on what stage of life you’re in, Valentine’s Days over the years can have many different faces. As a kid, Valentine’s Day was exciting for my friends and me–our parents would take us to buy little cards and candy hearts at the store and we would all exchange them during the school day. There were years when Valentine’s Days meant going out with a group of fellow single girlfriends to see a chick flick and “people watch” individuals who had the misfortune of being on awkward dates that evening. Those were always fun.
There were also some not so great Valentine’s Days. Like the one where the guy I was dating cooked a great dinner for me (apparently out of guilt, or so he told me when he broke up with me a week later). Or the one when a guy I had been out with a few times called to tell me that he was boycotting Valentine’s Day because it was a “useless” holiday, and he was going to go to the gym instead.
Thankfully, recent Valentine’s Days have been much better. Valentine’s Day 2008 was spent with my mom in Rio de Janeiro, the same week when we somehow ended up caught in the middle of the Carnival parade near Ipanema Beach. On February 13th, 2010, pre-Valentine’s Day, I was reintroduced to my now-fiancé. One year ago, also on February 13th, Leon proposed, and we celebrated our engagement with friends on the actual holiday.
Americans, in general, tend to treat Valentine’s Day as a pretty big deal. One only need to turn on the TV this week to see a jewelry store advertisement, for instance. American culture overall seems to uphold certain traditions for Valentine’s Day, namely, nice dinners, flowers, chocolates, jewelry, cards, and candy. In its purest form, it’s a day to show love and appreciation for loved ones, especially a spouse, and to take a step back from the hectic pace of life to rekindle any dimmed sparks.
Celebrations will also be rampant around the rest of the globe next week. In Mexico, for instance, Valentine’s Day is also known as the day of “amor y amistad” (love and friendship), and apparently anything red and heart-shaped is a popular gift. In Western Europe, from what I saw, it seemed like flowers and chocolates were the most common gifts. An interesting article I read recently talked about how, in Africa, Valentine’s celebrations mainly happen among affluent residents, but because so much of the world’s cocoa bean supply is grown on the continent, Africa is permanently tied to the holiday.
In South Korea, they do things a little differently. I remember being surprised to hear from my Korean friends that February 14th was a day when girls would give gifts to boys, and then one month later on March 14th (also known as “White Day”) the guys were supposed to “step up” and bestow gifts upon them (to note, in Japan they do the same thing). The Koreans also go one step further–another month later, on April 14th, single people are supposed to eat jjajanmyun, wheat noodles smothered in black soybean sauce. To add insult to injury, April 14th is also called “Black Day.” I remember seeing many depressed-looking Koreans out and about that day.
Then there are some places that don’t allow Valentine’s Day celebrations, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, where things like the sale of red roses are outlawed. Militant Hindu groups in India have also called for bans on Valentine’s Day, namely because St. Valentine is a Christian figure. From some research I did, however, it sounds like some clandestine celebrations still occur.
This year Valentine’s Day falls on a Tuesday, and it will be interesting to see what is happening around D.C. (Last year the holiday fell on a Monday, and I remember cringing while watching men in suits and ties fight over the last bouquets of roses at the local CVS). This year, besides spending time with Leon, I’m planning on gaming the system a little bit; I’m going to wait and buy chocolates and candy the day after Valentine’s Day. When they’re on sale.