After the festivities of November and December, we all seem to settle into some sort of renewed optimism come January. That optimism is of course challenged by the reality that we still live in the same house, we still can’t afford that gym membership, we still seem to have an insatiable lust for trashy television we swore we’d stop watching, and we are, plain and simple, the same person we were the year before. We settle into this renewed and more pragmatic sense of self and prepare ourselves for February — technically the shortest month of the year, but I swear to god, it never fails to feel like the longest.
Ah yes, February — the month that begins with a holiday where a groundhog predicts the weather. I’m nearly thirty and I still do not know whether he’s supposed to see his shadow or not, or what either thing means. But I do know that he almost always does whatever thing means winter will last longer. The beginning of this long winter month is also the start of Black History Month, during which time someone, likely a mediocre white man, inevitably offers themselves up as the devil’s advocate, saying, “If there’s a month for black history, don’t you think there should be one for white history?” This man is sure to be surprised when he goes to hell only to discover the devil already has an advocate.
The month opens with a hope of springtime soon to come, and those hopes are buried by the wet snow that seems to prevent spring from ever coming. And it is just around this time, during the early days of February when someone says to you, “Valentine’s Day is a stupid made-up, Hallmark holiday that is infested with the worms of capitalism and I hate it.”
Perhaps you nod your head or sigh at your friend's raging pessimism. Or maybe you remind your friend that, yes it is a made-up holiday, but opposed to what? All of our holidays are made up after all. For god’s sake, the month begins with a holiday where an enormous rodent named Punxsutawney Phil crawls out from its home in a park called (and I am completely serious) Gobbler’s Knob. There are a number of holidays on our calendar very worthy of this draconian interrogation — Thanksgiving and Columbus Day for example — but the tendency towards “unpacking” every single thing (yes, I’m talking to you Millenials) leaves us in a lurch where everything is problematic and we can’t have simple pleasures. Through hell or high water, every single year people like to call out February 14 as some greedy money-sucking holiday, instead of a holiday to celebrate love.
This is in large part due to the fact that Valentine’s Day has been made out by popular culture to be something only celebrated by people who are in love. Or worse, that you’re only worthy of celebration if you are romantically involved. We think of trails of roses to the bedroom where Marvin Gaye is playing. We think of over-priced lingerie for our special someone and surprise dates at impossible-to-get-a-table-at restaurants. But what if instead of just calling off the whole thing, we realized that love is far bigger, far more expansive and far more radical than just romantic and sexual love. Love is buying yourself roses. Drawing a bath for yourself. Making those impossible to get reservations for you and your three best friends to have dinner together. Some of the deepest, most soulmate-feeling loves in my life, have been with my best friends — women who have guided me, loved me, laughed, and cried with me. And a day to celebrate that love and friendship? Why the hell not? I mean sure, I’m just as suspicious of capitalism as the next well-read progressive gal, but we live in capitalism. So as we buy our Starbucks lattes or order our groceries on Instacart, or work our jobs that have paychecks while we complain about how Valentine’s Day is just sooo dirty because it’s part of capitalism… Well, perhaps we need a rebrand. If Thanksgiving can be celebrated as a time to give thanks, or as Friendsgiving, despites its roots in murder and colonization; and if Columbus Day can be celebrated instead as Indigenous People’s Day, then why not a reclaimation of February 14th as well? What if Valentine’s Day wasn’t some capitalistic god-awful cash-cow of a holiday? What if, just maybe, Valentine’s Day was like, super feminist?
Bear with me here — I know there are many ardent feminists who might claim Valentine’s Day is actually anti-feminist. But if being feminist means believing in social, political, and economic equality amongst all genders, then I truly fail to see how exactly Valentine’s Day might take away our rights. Sure, we’ve all had some major romantic letdowns and maybe “some bad dates, but not like, infringing on our right-to-vote bad.” So, how can we reclaim and rebrand this love-fest of a day you might ask? Well —
We Can Celebrate Every Kind of Love
Remember in elementary school when everyone would make brown-paper bag mailboxes and everyone would give each other tacky little notes that said things like “I love you bear-y much,” and we’d all just milled about eating Fun Dip and Pop Rocks revelling in the joy of Valentine’s Day? Yeah, me tool. We had yet to be socializaed to believe that joy and love only mattered if we had a romantic partner.
Like I’ve said, this day isn’t all about who is taking you out fine-dining, or who you're trying to hook up with. It’s about love plain and simple. Assuming that Valentine’s Day is only for men and women who love each other and want to bone means your adopting a very strong heteronormative view of romance and love, and that my friends, is certainly not feminist. Instead, we can throw off the shackles of enforced ideals about heteronormative love and simply celebrate our love for anyone and everyone be it friends, partners, family acorss the spectrum.
We Can Treat Ourselves
Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know —down with capitalism. The traditional overpriced red roses and fancy filled chocolates and jewelry that you’ll never wear all represent the idea that “the more money you spend on someone, the more you care about them.” We can all recognize that the materialism of any holiday is kind of bullshit, and that Valentine’s Day does not need to be about that at all.
But Valentine’s Day could be an amazing day to take yourself out for dinner. To celebrate yourself. When I first started taking myself out on dates, it was both uncomfortable and totally liberating. Consider this your artist’s date. Wine and dine yourself. And if eating out isn’t your thing, then maybe buy yourself a great cup of coffee and read your favorite book, or buy yourself that amazing dress you’ve been fawning over for months. Go for a 10 miles run. Paint your nails, do a face mask. Who cares. Whatever it is, go all in — honeymoon yourself.
We Can Celebrate Through Activism
Perhaps you want to fully throw off the chains of capitalism and a forced holiday that seems to celebrate specifically cisgender heterosexual romance? Well then, you can celebrate this holiday with a total rebrand. V-Day, was created by V, formerly Eve Ensler, the renowned playwriter and creator of The Vagina Monologues. V-Day is “a global activist movement to end violence against all women (cisgender, transgender, and those who hold fluid identities that are subject to gender-based violence), girls and the planet.” Taking part in the local and global events allows you to take part in a movement that is a bold “example of how the power of art can be used as a liberating tool for transformational holistic education and social justice.”
V-Day has been celebrated on February 14th around the world for just over 20 years, and encourages participants to “take up space” through movement, dancing, and celebrating. These celebrations and gatherings include flash mobs, testimonials, singing and dancing, and mobilize people to bring violence against women into the spotlight. So instead of going on an annual Valentine’s-Day-hating diatribe, maybe we can “transform Cupid’s arrow into a sword” and fight for a cause we believe in.
You Can Celebrate with With Your Gals
Another great way to rebrand on February 14th is to celebrate Galentine’s Day instead. Created by the fictional character Leslie Knope of Parks and Recreation, Galentine’s Day is a day “simply to celebrate the platonic love that exists among ladyfriends,” but really all genders are welcome in this space. What better way to celebrate a day about love than to celebrate the joy of friendships, especially female friendship which is rarely depicted and represented in our media, or at least not healthy female friendships. Whether you choose to do so through the classic boozy brunch, or if something else tickles your fancy, “these celebrations redirect our attention away from the stereotypically romantic and towards other important, potentially neglected forms of showing love.”
Our platonic friendships are likely some of the most enduring, supportive, and deep relationships in our lives. There are no bounds to friendship, no book of rules, no mile marks and destinations to reach such as in a romantic relationship. No, platonic friendships function only on the agreement that you love each other and you respect each other and you will do whatever you need to do to support one another. These relationships are often lifelong and can outlast the many seasons of our sexual and romantic loves. In my opinion, that is something truly worthy of celebration.
The Millenial Generation seems to bring the same tenacity to their desire to unpack just about everything as they do to their general penchant for canceling and calling out. This is important, don’t get me wrong. But at what point does our activism just become pessimistic? If we need to set aside a holiday to make the people in our lives feel especially loved, whether through physical items or a nice dinner, how bad is that really? Sure, we should express our love to these people all the time, but our everyday lives are busy with work, school, and other commitments. And so, while we might not intentionally try to make our partners or friends feel neglected, sometimes we do. So a day that reminds us to be fully present with our loved ones? I think there are worst things to get up in arms about.
There is no one way to be in love or to express love, and so if getting dressed up in “your boobiest dress and going to a traditional romantic meal” on Valentine’s Day makes you feel good, great. If you want to hook up with some random ass person from a dating app, amazing. If you’d prefer to curl up alone on your couch with a vibrator, a pizza and your favorite trashy TV show, carpe fucking diem. At the end of the day, Valentine’s Day as an industry is probably a little gross — it idealizes relationships and punishes those not in them. But as a day? I think there are some heavier causes to hang our hats on.
So yes, perhaps Valentine’s Day is old-fashioned and rather saccharine. But what’s wrong with a little sweetness and sentimentality? Couldn’t we use something sweet right now? Couldn’t we all benefit from a little love? I know, I know — I am fully aware that I am the sappiest sentimental and it makes you maybe want to barf. But I also know that this sappiness, this love of love — it colors my whole world. So as for me, I’m reclaiming Valentine’s Day as a little bit too sweet feminist love-fest during which I can celebrate myself, my interpersonal relationships, and my global relationships. I invite you to join me.