We can understand the basic differences in the meanings of the title words. On some special days we celebrate: think of occasions like Christmas, Hanukah, Thanksgiving, or the Fourth of July. We commemorate, rather than celebrate, on Veterans Day or Memorial Day. The more solemn days like Yom Kippur or Easter are observances. It’s really not too clear if we celebrate or observe Halloween, but that’s another story and it depends on the age of the people you poll.
St. Valentine’s Day should fall under the category of observances. It is really just the observance of the day of the death of the saint now associated with romantic love. St. Valentine was a martyred, third century Roman who was often confused with other saintly Valentines who lived during the early centuries Anno Domini. Not much is known about any of them, but the saint who died on February 14 was singled out in the fourteenth century by one Geoffrey Chaucer. He used him in a work of fiction, Parlement of Foules, (Fowls), writing about the fictitious traditional celebration of St. Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers.
What started as fiction almost seven centuries ago has become a fact, and a lucrative, commercial one to boot. On a cold February day, one could wish that Chaucer had selected an otherwise-obscure saint who was born in the spring – maybe a day in May. You know the line from Tennyson: “In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love.” Yes, the spring would be more conducive to romance: flowers are in bloom, the birds are singing their mating songs, and every other living thing is tuned in to the beautiful weather. Birds do it, bees do it.
Christmas tinsel is hardly swept away when the stores explode with red and pink, gearing up for Valentine’s Day. Greeting cards run the gamut from packets of little cards meant for school kids to exchange (remember that?) to over-large, velvet-tufted expressions of undying love. And don’t forget the stickers. Kids love them.
There is an ever-expanding range of choices for gifts for our sweethearts, as well as an ever-expanding effort to get us to buy, buy, buy, lest we disappoint our significant other. Flowers and the traditional heart-shaped box of chocolates, and, of course, the Whitman Sampler (the caramels are mine!) have been joined by teddy bears, pajamas, and other personalized gifts. Jewelry has always been popular, and the more glitter the better. We hope money is no object.
For us Seniors, it may all be getting to be a bit too much. We’ve heard of the couples who take themselves to the card store where each selects a card for their spouse, presents it to them, and has them read it. They exchange a hug and a kiss, and then put the cards back in the racks. Fun and inexpensive, and no tchotchke to find a home for.
The lasting legacies of the romance of Valentine’s Day are those born in mid-November, as I was. We are all Valentine Babies.