Saturday, February 25, 2006

Valentines Day: Leave Hallmark Out of It!

One thing that still strikes me in America is how little her people know of her history and traditions; how ignorant they are about their own culture and their place in the world, as well. I think it’s my fault for being so nit-picky about this, because I come from a (very small) culture where history is valued and revered and it’s what makes us, as a small country, stand out in the world. I once had a professor (in Romania) say that yes indeed Americans are ignorant, and they don’t know their own geography and presidents, and political organizations, and all, they don’t know the history of America itself, past their photo albums, but when they drive their fast cars which they can afford to change every couple of years, and they live in their mansions on the lakes and oceans, when they have all their needs met at the snap of their fingers, they couldn’t care less who was the first president or the last for that matter; or what continent Romania is on. And he was probably right.
What I don’t like about this whole thing is the vehemence with which they profess their (wrong) knowledge of things; their self-assuredness, and the lack of interest in knowing better and in finding out what the truth really is. God forbid you (who are right) tell them different, you’re head is gone! They’re Americans, by God, biggest power of the world, in every sense of the word, how dare you?! Of course they are right.
The last thing that set me off was how everyone, across the board blames Hallmark for the "cheesiness" of Valentines Day, and calls it, again, across the board, a "Hallmark-invented holiday". Every year, around this time, I hear at least half of a dozen people say the exact same words and it just eats at me!!! And I have good reason why, trust me!
Let me explain:
We don't celebrate Valentines Day in Romania, for the simple fact that Valentine is a Catholic saint, and in Romania probably 90% the population is Eastern Orthodox. So, for 23 years I never celebrated it. The first time I learned about Valentines Day was probably in 6th grade (or maybe 7th?!), but it was NOT from an American, or an American-related occurrence: back then, I was falling in love with Thomas Hardy's novels: I was reading "Far From the Madding Crowd", and in the opening chapters of that book, the female heroine, Bathsheba Everdene, impulsively sends Farmer Boldwood a valentine sealed with the words "Marry Me". And that's when I looked up the word "valentine" and found out about the whole Valentines Day tradition on February 14th of every year. Hardy's book was written around 1874, and Hardy, for those who don't know is an English Victorian writer, who lived between 1840 and 1928. Now, back to America, the Hallmark founder, Joyce Clyde Hall, was born in David City, Nebraska in 1891. That is 17 years AFTER the aforementioned book was already on the shelves of Europe. Now, unless history is wrong, as you can see, he was not able to be of any blame at least regarding the "invention" of this holiday. Want more history? Here 'tis:

- if you want the whole legend (or legends as they are many) of how Valentines Day came about, visit the History Channel online and they will explain to you what you need to know (not what you want to know, which may be two different things); I got the link right here: ; but just to give you an idea : the February the 14th celebration points back to events that occurred during the 3rd century in Rome, more exactly the year 270. That is, as you can see, long before America even dreamed of being discovered.

- Also, according to the History Channel, Catholics started celebrating this feast on the very same date mentioned above, which has been kept to this day, around 498 AD, when Pope Gelasius said it's OK; again, that is LONG before poor ol' Joyce Clyde Hall of David City, Nebraska existed.

- And as I have mentioned, at least Hardy knew about it, in 1874 when he wrote his novel, well before Hallmark as well (Hall started this wholesale postcard business around 1910).

At any rate, after digging into a little bit of history like this, I felt it was right to exonerate the poor Hallmark name at least from this one wrongful accusation. The fact that Valentines Day today remains 'cheesy' is not to be contested however, but coming from the old world, let me tell you: "we the people" made ALL of our holidays cheesy! Look at Christmas! Look at the way we celebrate Easter! Now, tell me, what does the birth of Jesus in a poor, cold and dirty stable, a long, long time ago have to do with the insanity of gift-giving in our country ?? What does Jesus have to do with buying a new vehicle and a new motorcycle and 1000 pairs of socks, and ties and shirts and panties?! Don't give me the "spirit of Christmas" crap, because the spirit is Christmas is not, and should not, be maxing out your credit cards and paying interests to all the creditors known to man until you die and then some! That is NOT the spirit of Christmas. How cheesy is that?!? Are we blaming Hallmark for that too? What about Easter? Now tell me, what does dying on the Cross in horrible torture, and the Resurrection of Christ have to do with hiding plastic pastel colored eggs in the grass?? What do pastel colors (which are unnatural, lab made colors that you can never find in natural state, a fairly modern invention of ours) have to do with something that happened almost 2000 years ago?! Tell me what jelly beans and awful sugary peeps have to do with all that?! Hallmark again?! It's US who have and make a choice, not Hallmark.
I guess what we need to do rather, is reflect upon us, and what our choices are. "We, the people" are keeping these folks in business and altering tradition and passing on mutilated history. We try to embellish it and make it "fun", when the truth of the matter is: we have a moral duty to our future generations to pass on what the truth is, and the truth is not, in my opinion, in flooding your floor with presents on Christmas, and your yard with plastic eggs for Easter, or gaining 4 pounds from boxed chocolates on Valentines Day. I think the truth is much richer and deeper than all that and what the children of tomorrow need is to learn the naked, raw, albeit "un-fun" truth. Not the fads, which are here today, and may be gone tomorrow. And it's OUR responsibility to distinguish between the "cheese" and the history, and to teach them better. And it's ultimately OUR "cheese". So, don't blame Hallmark, or WalMart, or Target! They're here just to scratch OUR itches!

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