Remember Valentine’s Day in second grade? When you stuffed your SpongeBob “I love you squar-ey much” cards into the glittered shoebox of each one of your classmates? You made Valentine’s Day cards out of pink construction paper for your parents, and you gave your very bestest friend an extra special treat outside of school to renew your “best friends 4 life” vows. This may not be true for everyone—especially the guys—but for the most part, this is how I remember elementary school Valentine’s Day playing out. To this day, I fondly recall that Valentine’s Day of yesteryear. As we grow up, however, we find that Valentine’s Day morphs into a slightly different holiday with quite different connotations.
As history buffs may know, Valentine’s Day commemorates the life of a Christian saint named Valentinus, who was martyred in A.D. 296. The holiday didn’t actually have any romantic associations attached to it until a millennium later, when poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote “Parlement of Foules” to honor the anniversary of King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. Now, centuries after that, there is much build-up to what has become a “Hallmark holiday”: People in relationships feel pressure to plan something romantic, people in pseudo-relationships wonder if it is too soon or crossing the line to speak to their (in)significant others on the 14th, and people not in relationships watch “Love Actually,” eat chocolate, and paint their nails black (at least from what I’ve gathered).
Despite these tropes, Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be spent with (or fantasizing about) someone in the romantic realm. It can double as a day to think about the underappreciated relationships we have in our lives. We can take the time to cherish the bonds we’ve established with our parents and grandparents, friends who listen to all of our drama again and again, people back home whom we haven’t spoken to in a few years, the middle school teacher that sparked our interest in writing, and even the guitar player we stop to listen to on evenings out in the square.
If you are one of the Harvard students who has found love in a hopeless place, you can rightfully expect a little extra TLC on this specific day. But remember that good can also come from paying the excess love forward to someone who doesn’t receive the same kind of appreciation. While I personally haven’t really celebrated Valentine’s Day since my fifth grade plaid jumper days, I do take the holiday as a reminder that, regardless of the day of the year or the occasion, I should take more opportunities to show my appreciation for all of the valuable relationships in my life.
At times, we can get wrapped up in our own busy schedules, constantly running from meeting to meeting and class to class. Even lunch with good friends may occupy only a predetermined time block, and a phone call can only last as long as it takes to get from the dining hall to the Science Center. In the midst of the chaos of the semester, we sometimes forget that everyone—friends, acquaintances, classmates, and strangers—has a story worth listening to. If we are too busy to take a little time out of our day to be a part of someone else’s, then we are missing out on much of the richness of life. So while some of us may indulge in the greeting card traditions of Valentine’s Day, we can also reconnect with our childhood version of the holiday. Then, once again, we can have multiple Valentines and multiple ways of telling people how much we care about them.
Meredith C. Baker ’13, a Crimson editorial writer, is a social studies concentrator in Eliot House.