One of my favorite Valentine's Day quotes is not from a beautiful sonnet or anthology, but by rapper Andre 3000, who says, "Every day is the 14th." It's a trite, simple idea that we hear time and again, especially when companies shove glittered greeting cards, cheaply made bears holding hearts and red candy down our throats: that love should be celebrated and practiced every day, not just on the 14th. But every year around this time, commercialism tells us otherwise. We flip on the TV and see the woman nostalgically looking over a bridge into a fog. A handsome man, confident in his approach, pulls out a ring. She gasps in ecstasy and says "Yes," before they both collapse into a loving embrace. And then your girlfriend gives you that look. You know the one.
It's that special time of the year when the number of engagement ring commercials increase triple-fold and restaurants find an excuse to double their prices, all in the name of love. And, many of us, play right along. What's most interesting about the way we express our love for each other in this country, is how deeply entrenched those practices are in consumerism. Jewelry company De Beers, for example, after seeing a drop in their diamond sales in 1919, started a massive product placement campaign in 1947 with the slogan, "A Diamond is Forever." Suddenly, everyone from Hollywood stars to fashion designers were rockin' the bling -- and boom, women around the world followed suit. Diamond engagement ring sales took off. DeBeers' fairytale interpretation of the origins of the diamond ring on their web site is quite different. We're still told that a diamond is forever, though statistics show that marriages may not be.
And then there's Valentine's Day, whose murky origins have nothing to do with Hallmark cards or stuffed animals. According to History.com, from Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated a pagan fertility festival known as the feast of Lupercalia. During the three-day affair, men sacrificed goats and dogs, and then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain in hopes of making them more fertile. Try that as a Valentine's Day gift now, and you would end up on jail like St. Valentine, the martyr beheaded on February 14th and for whom the holiday has supposedly been named after.
The problem with commercializing love, which we are taught is priceless, is how it makes us feel. Remember those heart-shaped Valentine's Day greeting cards in elementary school that were delivered in front of the class? There was always someone that was left out. And then there are the Facebook and Twitter status updates that either express the joy of being in love or solidarity in being single. We're told to buy bags of candy and heart-shaped brownies for love, only to end up in a sugar coma. I don't believe there's anything wrong with appointing days to celebrate something as valuable as love. I just don't see why teddy bears have to be involved.
This is why I try to practice love in action -- for myself, for my family, friends, and significant other, year-round. It's a beautiful gesture to buy someone flowers on the 14th, but it's even more beautiful to treat them with care every other day as well. I don't always succeed, but if we all made a point to trade products for a way of life, days like Valentine's Day or symbols like rings would fare inconsequential in light of the powerful connections we are creating with each other. The truth is that it's hard enough to find love and love ourselves fully sometimes without holidays getting in the way. These are lifelong pursuits that just can't be bought.