Friday, February 12, 2010

Thoughts About Valentine's Day

Ever since I was a child, I have always had a certain fondness for Valentine's Day. My sentiments don't seem much shared by modern people. In fact, as a nation, we underappreciate nearly all of our holidays. Some are too trivial. Some carry no personal significance. Some are too religious. Some are too sappy and whimsical. I think that modern attitudes about our holidays are a more accurate reflection of us as a people than a proper critique of the holidays themselves. Presently, we are a people who lack appreciation for what ought to be appreciated. We do not see the magic of our world, and therefore we do not see what is worth celebrating. There is a similar sentiment oft expressed concerning Valentine's day. Some disdainfully refer to it as "singles awareness day," while others complain that it is the prime example of a "hallmark holiday." While holidays are set aside as days of celebration for the rejoicing in that which is most human, some refuse to see anything but the negative side of things. If they take joy and pleasure in the drudgery of celebration, then I will do nothing to interfere with their upside-down days of gloomy rejoicing, but I also shall take part in such a pitiable perspective.

Personally, I think that if anything is to be done, it ought to be done out of joy with a childlike jubilee. Especially holidays! Valentine's Day, while not presently my favorite holiday, is definitely one that I greatly appreciate and thoroughly enjoy. I have enjoyed it when I've been single, and I have enjoyed it when I haven't been. It's a holiday that is about much more than just oneself. It is a celebration of love, closeness, connection, relationships and the glorious and surprising differences between men and women. It is a celebration of that which most matters in life, and of that which is capable of bringing some of the highest human pleasures. While it certainly is about no less than romantic relationships and love affairs, it is definitely not limited to the sphere of romance.

Ironically, Valentine's gifts I've received from girls or activities I've done with girls don't come close in comparison with what has made me feel the most loved on Valentine's day. The most meaningful and satisfying Valentine's days have been ones where my father gave candy to my siblings and me. I've written in the past about my favorite memories of my father. This is another memory that I very much treasure and value. For the most part, my father is not a very expressive man. He rarely talks about his emotions or feelings and he rarely shares his heart with people. During my teenage years, however, every Valentine's day for several consecutive years, my father would always surprise us with a box of delicious chocolate-covered cherry coridals. He never said more than "Happy Valentine's Day," but the very fact the he went out of his way to do anything at all spoke volumes more than his words or even his gifts could convey. They say that it's the thought that counts most, behind a gift. Never have I found a truer and more practical example of that little epigram than in the gifts my father gave us on Valentine's day. Those gifts showed me that he does have a deep fondness for me, despite his general lack of expression concerning such affection. His gifts were sincere, genuine, meaningful and unpretentious.

Indeed, I think that the best way to celebrate Valentine's day, if it is to be celebrated at all, is exactly in that sort of manner. Whatever is done or given should be sincere, genuine, meaningful and unpretentious. Rather than doing something cliché and stereotypical out of duty, if there are to be any expressions of love and appreciation they should be done from the heart. As an artist, I have always thought that buying any sort of store-bought card is quite impersonal. Such a card takes a negligible amount of thought and creativity, and expresses very little of personal significance. When I do give cards for Valentines day, I always prefer to create them myself, either by hand or digitally, depending on my present mood and the complexity of my idea. In such manner, when I do give a card, it is something that is heartfelt and specifically crafted for its recipient. Poems and letters also have a personal touch and significance that far outweigh flowers or chocolates. Simple things are often more meaningful than elaborate gestures, since they always have a purity about them that overblown efforts more frequently lack.

Yet, the most important thing on Valentine's day is never what is done or given, but the specific person or relationship being celebrated. It is easy to lose sight of this in our materialistic age, and it is easy to allow expectations to prevent a person (giver or receiver) from fully enjoying the day. When one sets expectations for what is to be done or given, the emphasis is no longer on what truly matters (love, the person, and the relationship), but instead is on the token of expression. A giver who buys flowers and chocolates out of duty is worse than one who does nothing, because he misses the whole point of the day. Similarly, a receiver who expects to receive certain things also misses the point of the whole day and arbitrarily limits their enjoyment and delight. Chesterton offers a brilliant insight into the blissfulness that accompanies having no expectations:

The man who said, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall not be disappointed," put the eulogy quite inadequately and even falsely. The truth is, "Blessed is he that expecteth nothing, for he shall be gloriously surprised."
Because I enjoy celebrating that which is joyous and wonderful, and because I thoroughly embrace everything that Valentine's day represents and stands for, I am quite excited about the upcoming holiday. I am quite glad that personality exists, that personal relationships are real, that romance is not merely a fantasy, and that love is one of the truest and greatest parts of life! I am completely delighted by the shocking fact that there are two very different sexes, each glorious in its own way! I am extremely thankful for the wonderful people in my life, and especially for those who are the closest to me: my family, my best friend, and my girlfriend! Why should I hesitate to express myself in a way that is slightly more tangible than ordinary expression, when I express myself in so many ways in the ordinary course of things? Valentine's day is gift from God, and I shall rejoice in His love, which is the deepest of all, and in expressing my own love for others.

Of course, that isn't the only reason I celebrate--for some deep and mysterious reason, I have always found these surprisingly delicious and delightful:

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