A pile of broken hearts lies in the trash. Photo by Inayah Entzminger.
Valentine’s Day is unequivocally the worst holiday among major holidays celebrated in America. Harsh as it may sound, declaring Valentine’s Day to be an inferior holiday is being incredibly charitable, as it is hardly a holiday to begin with.
Roughly speaking there are two types of holidays celebrated in the U.S.: “principled” holidays and commodified holidays. Principled holidays would include those celebrated mostly by minority, ethnic and religious communities with traditions dating back centuries. These holidays are not typically part of the national discourse.
Commodified holidays are holidays that lose their specific character and become generalized celebrations. A commodified holiday like Christmas is so diluted by commercialization that it is quite easy to project one’s own personal beliefs onto it. Atheists, Christians, Muslims, Jews, and other groups in America celebrate Christmas proudly, despite their disparate beliefs, because there is no real common thread to the holiday.
Halloween is similar in this manner. Although there is certainly a strong aesthetic attached to Halloween, there are no values or major events that are being celebrated during the holiday. For the most part, Halloween is just about having fun. Staying home and watching scary movies is as valid a celebration as going trick or treating or partying.
Valentine’s Day takes the worst elements of these two types and takes none of the positives. It is hyper-focused on one particular theme, romantic love, but fails to uphold this value. In some cases, it even obstructs the development of healthy romantic relationships. Valentine’s Day is oriented towards large gestures – about 6 million women expect marriage proposals on the holiday.
Additionally, gift giving is a major ritual associated with Valentine’s Day. Although there is nothing intrinsically harmful about the act of gift giving, it often provides those in relationships with excuses to shirk the responsibility of caring and providing for their partner on a consistent, long-term basis. This occurs despite prevailing research that successful relationships are predicated on constant daily affirmation, not flashy gestures.
Some concede that such expectations and rituals are unhealthy, but maintain that they are not required features of Valentine’s Day. This perspective ignores how holidays are constructed through implicit rules. There is no law in the Tanakh stating that all Jews must light a menorah during Hanukkah, but it is still considered to be the ritualistic centerpiece of Hanukah.
A holiday should either have established mechanisms to celebrate the value or event that it is designed to celebrate or be an open forum where all are free to enjoy and partake in festivities.
A popular view held about Valentine’s Day is that it should be honored, regardless of its validity as a holiday, because it preserves the sanctity of romance. The act of carving out a day whereby couples are encouraged to affirm their love for each other supposedly ensures that romantic love remains sacrosanct.
Although this brings up an interesting point: what is the value of discussing love in the abstract divorced from the reality of the situation? Speaking generally, divorce rates have been on the rise as Valentine’s Day has grown in popularity (now currently celebrated across the globe).
A significantly more rigorous analysis conducted that tracked relationships before and after Valentine’s Day confirmed this generalization, as it concluded that Valentine’s Day hurts relationship health. Relationships that are solidly grounded on mutual respect and affection, not on Hallmark receipts, will succeed with or without Valentine’s Day.