By Kedrick Nettleton, Faith Editor
There will be flowers, there will be jewelry and there will be chocolate – but is love really in the air on Valentine’s Day?
The holiday which purports to be set aside for the celebration of romantic love has come to mean different things to different people. For some, the holiday might simply mean extra appreciation for loved ones, be that for family, friends or romantic partners.
Those in relationships can feel stress to create the perfect V-Day date, which inevitably involves a high cost. According to statistics gathered by the National Retail Foundation, Americans are expected to spend over $20 Billion on Valentine’s Day in 2019, which comes out to about $160 per person.
And for many single people, Valentine’s Day can serve only as a reminder of loneliness, leading for some to settle for spending the holiday with someone they don’t feel anything for. In fact, the relationship app Hinge saw a 230 percent increase in app usage on Valentine’s Day in 2015. Still others decide to reject the romantic aspect of the Valentine’s Day season all together, spending time with friends. The Atlantic notes that “Galentine’s Day,” a holiday celebrating female friendship featured on the sitcom Parks and Recreation – and always falling on February 13 – has gone from pop culture in-joke to a bona-fide celebration.
All these different emotional and cultural landscapes making up the modern Valentine’s Day tradition create an interesting pastiche, but the holiday as a whole is still on the down-turn. It can be statistically verified that interest and involvement in the holiday is waning: according to the National Retail Federation, 72 percent of people aged 18-34 planned to celebrate Valentine’s Day ten years ago. This year, the number for the same age range is down to only 52 percent.
Living and working on a conservative Christian campus adds another wrinkle to the problem of the holiday. What should the modern Christian’s response to Valentine’s Day – which began as a Christian festival but has been co-opted and secularized – be? Should the holiday be shunned as nothing more than a commercialized, greeting-card excuse for chocolate or should Christians seek to insert deeper theological meaning into the fabric of Valentine’s Day? Matthew Arbo, assistant professor of Theological Studies, is quick to pump the breaks.
“I think it’s important not to play up the significance of Valentine’s Day,” he said, “and not to over-endow it with too much romantic efficacy.”
While acknowledging the Christian origins of the holiday, Arbo compared it to some of the other holidays Americans celebrate every year, many of which began as deeply religious celebrations but have become watered down and mainstream.
“It’s now essentially a secular holiday for people who have some sort of romantic other,” he said. “It’s not bad… it’s just something that happens over time.”
Dr. Arbo is quick to point out the inherent stress of Valentine’s Day – things like planning a date, attempting to find a reservation, or navigating crowded locale. But what’s truly significant, he said, is not the date itself. It’s the time spent.
“It doesn’t need to be a burden,” he said. “If it becomes a burden or a distraction – or something that you feel like you’ve got to do to achieve certain thresholds in your relationship… put all those illusions behind and focus more on what the relationship is really for.”
This perspective on Valentine’s Day mirrors the way that Christians are focusing on other holidays that have become secularized, especially the battle for religious meaning in Christmas. It is not with a certain day or traditions that the value comes in a holiday – like presents on Christmas or chocolates on Valentine’s Day – but with what the day stands for.
“You don’t need to get bogged down with Valentine’s Day itself,” Arbo said. “Take the opportunity of Valentine’s Day to do something important for your relationship or acknowledge something important about it, but that’s really it.”
Forget the cost, forget the pressure and forget the preconceptions of romantic fulfillment. Just let the day happen.