My daughter’s preschool sent an email recently informing the parents of the month’s agenda i.e. learning about shapes and then a slight detour to celebrate Valentine’s Day and spread love around. Initially I thought the children will look so adorable cutting out heart shapes and making little cards for their class mates and family. Then every day this past week my 2 year old started demanding “Where is my Valentine’s Day card?” It went from “cute” to “cringe” very fast.
One thing I have realized about motherhood is that as I watch my child grow and interact with the world, I find myself questioning and developing strong opinions about things which I rarely ever thought of or couldn’t be bothered about; For instance, Valentine’s Day. In all my years growing up this day was always about proclaiming romantic love for someone either anonymously (secret rose deliveries in school) or making and sending cards for your friends and family. As a somewhat “goody-two shoes” teenager, particularly South Asian I was too afraid to have a boy-friend because well just being Desi should explain that one! In my mind Valentine’s Day wasn’t meant for me. At least that was the armour I used to protect my ego from any bruises when that anonymous rose never came around. As I got older this day became more about girl-friend bonding, a day of reaffirmation that we didn’t need some ‘guy’ to make us feel special, until that genuinely special guy entered our lives.
So when my child suddenly places emphasis on this day, even though at this age all she understands is that you draw lots of hearts which make your loved ones happy, this focus on something seemingly innocent right now will become a yearly tradition and VERY SOON it will become about who got a card or rose or gift and who did not, who is liked because she looks “hot” and who is not. Each generation is growing up much too fast; innocence short lived thanks to the toxic media culture of sexualising the young at subsequently earlier ages. I don’t think I am comfortable celebrating this notion with her.
If it were a day where the schools actually taught how historically Christian martyrs were called Valentines and it was about sacrifice not romantic love, which did not even originate on February 14th that would be interesting to learn. In fact it wasn’t until Geoffery Chaucer’s poem in the 14th century that any link between the Saints of Valentine or romantic love ever existed. It is also interesting to note that in Ancient Rome, Lupercalia was observed from Feb 13-15th, an archaic rite connected to fertility. Perhaps being propagated today, to fuel this modern day era Hallmark holiday? As with many other consumerist holidays (which may have started off with good intentions), this one really takes the cake- and chocolates, flowers, cards, jewellery too!
Personally, this is how I see it. It is a Western concept that has for several years now permeated our South Asian culture as well, whether living in the west or not. For those in a committed relationship it’s just one of many other days to celebrate your love. For those who are single, it is another day to ignore. My problem (recently realized) starts when it is introduced to young children, too young to understand anything about it but suddenly learning that it is important. Because as they grow older that is the only part they will remember, its perceived importance- which will lead to unnecessary expectations and rejection as an adolescent (or earlier) and do more harm than good.
If we must celebrate it, how about we keep it amongst consenting adults? Not interpret it one way for children and then change the meaning on them when they are older.