Re-envisioning the Value of Valentine’s Day


The mention of Feb. 14 is often met with either rosy cheeks, cool indifference or a firm grimace. It is not often that a singular day evokes such a wide breadth of emotion, ranging from utter infatuation to bitter resentment.

Yet, year after year, Valentine’s Day – the international holiday dedicated to romantic love and overpriced gifts – rolls around and stirs the pot (of melted chocolate, for covering strawberries, of course).

This Valentine’s Day, The Fordham Ram is calling for a rebrand.

The heteronormative and idealistic romance traditionally associated with the holiday fails to capture so much of the love that deserves to be celebrated in the world, and we should champion all types as wholeheartedly as we do the former.

The inspiration for Valentine’s Day is thought to come from the ancient pagan festival of Lupercalia, during which Romans aimed to commemorate the coming of spring with animal sacrifice, fertility rites and random matchmaking through a lottery process.

The spectacle, held annually on Feb. 15, was gory, violent and sexually-charged, an almost unrecognizable precursor to the lovey-dovey festivities of today.

Pope Gelasius I eliminated Lupercalia during the fifth century and instead dedicated the 14th of February to the Christian saint Valentine.

Though accounts of his identity are inconsistent, St. Valentine is believed to have been martyred in the third century. One legend tells that the Roman emperor Claudius II executed the saint for aiding persecuted Christians and secretly marrying Christian lovers to spare the husbands from war.

The long-held idea that biblically approved marriage is between a man and a woman laid the foundation for the heteronormativity that plagues the holiday today.

Another strand of the tale tells that during his imprisonment, St. Valentine healed his jailer’s blind daughter and left her a note signed “Your Valentine” on the day of his execution.

As a result of the saint’s evidently intimate involvement with matters of the heart, his feast day came to be associated with love, devotion and romance. Notes called “Valentines” began to appear in the public during the 1500s and became commercially printed by the mid-1800s.

Though the modern celebration of Valentine’s Day continues to place romantic love at its core, the general ethos surrounding the day has since changed quite a bit.

The holiday has become increasingly commercialized and the idea of romantic love increasingly exploited for profit over the past few decades. Fewer people are celebrating the holiday, but the individuals that do are spending much more.

Though 51 percent of Americans plan to celebrate (the lowest percentage in over a decade), this year’s total expected Valentine’s Day spending is at a whopping $20.7 billion.

While gift-giving might be the preferred love language of some who believe a token of appreciation symbolizes love, thoughtfulness and effort, others find the overly-commercialized tone of the holiday to be too materialistic.

There is a beautiful sentiment in the intentions of Valentine’s Day that can get lost when the success of the day depends solely on the exchange of elaborate gifts or expensive gestures.

Similarly, the heteronormative traditions of the holiday can lead to discomfort among many in the queer community.

Many depictions of Valentine’s Day in advertisements and movies center around the romantic relationship between two cisgender and heterosexual individuals. There are fewer generic valentine cards sold in stores that use gender-neutral language such as “partner” than those that use gender-specific language.

People who simply lack romantic love in their lives – voluntarily, involuntarily or otherwise – tend to feel excluded from the celebration as well. Some single people come to resent the holiday for the overly sentimental, couple-centric and sappy hue it has taken on over the years.

Others believe that the vocalization of our appreciation for each other should not be restricted to a single day and, therefore, perhaps counterintuitively, choose to not participate in festivities at all.

During the increasingly polarized era in which we find ourselves, Valentine’s Day has the potential to be a beautiful and much-needed reminder of the endless love that exists in the world. However, some things must change before this vision can be realized.

Romantic love is just a singular aspect of one’s emotional fulfillment. Platonic love, familial love, spiritual love and self-love must be celebrated as equally and as thoroughly as romantic love, on this holiday and always.

Some already have begun to embrace this shift. The Fordham community is hosting a variety of events that all students can participate in this Feb. 14.

Fordham Marketing Association is holding its annual carnation sale, delivering flowers to students on campus who want to make a “cute, simple gesture of appreciation” to a significant other or friend.

Pugsley’s Pizza is offering heart-shaped pizzas. Campus Activity Board (CAB) has scheduled an entire week of activities ranging from Broken Hearted Open Mic at Rodrigue’s on Tuesday to the CAB Build-A-Bear in McGinley on Thursday.

This expansion of celebration is not only occurring within the gates of Fordham.

“The vast majority of Valentine’s Day dollars are still spent on significant others,” according to Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation. “But there’s a big increase this year in consumers spreading the love to children, parents, friends and coworkers.”

So this year, join The Fordham Ram in reclaiming Valentine’s Day and spread all forms of love.

Make your own non-romantic valentine cards and give them to the bus driver, your favorite professor, your internship supervisor or anyone else you want to show appreciation for.

Pull a Leslie Knope and throw an informal Galentine’s Day party with your close friends or talk on the phone with your parents for longer than you usually would.

Valentine’s Day should be a celebration of universal compassion, an annual embracement of unconditional appreciation for everyone and anyone, including yourself.

There are endless types of love in this world, and we should acknowledge and cherish them all.

Though we cannot be sure, The Ram believes St. Valentine would approve of these modifications to his special day.