The Spirituality Of Valentine’s Day

Every year I run into people who believe that Valentine's Day is just a holiday made up by Hallmark to sell cards.   And the significant amounts of money people spend on flowers, chocolate and jewelry seem to support this theory.   When I lived in New York, lines of people waiting to buy flowers would crowd the sidewalks and could be seen   at every bodega in the city each year.   But this viewpoint has always seemed a bit jaded to me.

Photo courtesy of mozzercork

On the other hand, there are people who buy into the sentimentality of Valentine's Day.   People who want the flowers and the jewelry because they view love through the superficial lens of a consumer society.   I don't think either extreme accurately reflects the true meaning of the holiday.

Love should be celebrated.   Every day.   In most world religions, one of the most significant concepts is that of gratitude.   What makes life sacred is understanding the beauty in what we experience every day, and being grateful for it.   This includes romantic love, of course.   A life well lived is one where attention is placed on what we love, rather than what we dislike or lack.   It is not always easy to maintain this way of thinking, however.   Life gets stressful, and it's easy to forget to be grateful.   This is where ceremony comes in.

Photo courtesy of Lauren Tucker Photography

In our contemporary culture, where many - including myself - see themselves as "spiritual but not religious," ceremonies can be seen as antiquated, or as representative of religious dogmas with which we may not be completely comfortable.   So we tend to throw the baby out with the bath water, as it were.   That is, we underestimate the importance of ceremony itself.

Ceremony - having a particular set of practices that go along with a particular type of activity - forces us to slow down and think about what we're doing.   Birthday parties are a type of ceremony, for example, that cause us to reflect on the importance role of a loved on in our lives.

Similarly, one of my favorite experiences as a teenager was being a member of my school's cross-country team.   Every week, the team would have a "pasta feed" the night before the meet.   We would gather at the house of one of our teammates and the parents would prepare mass quantities of spaghetti, lasagna, salad, and garlic bread.   Ostensibly, the purpose of the meal was to "carb load" - this was before Atkins - so that we would have extra energy for the next day's race.   Science does not support this theory, as the carbs we ate were most certainly metabolized by the time of the meet the next evening.   The real purpose of the meal was to create a ceremony, one that reminded us of the importance of working together as a team and, for the parents, the importance of pulling together as a community to raise happy, healthy sons and daughters.

Photo courtesy of garlandcannon

It does not matter if your ceremony is sanctioned by a particular church or authoritative body.   What matters is that the ceremony reminds its participants of the significance of particular values and activities in life.   It reminds us to appreciate - and even celebrate - the beauty in life.   Because, with the endless minutia and frustrations of daily life, it is all to easy to take that beauty for granted.   We need ceremony to give us perspective.

Valentine's Day is significant for the same reasons.   It helps us take a moment and slow down to remember just how important our partners are to us.   It is an opportunity for us to show our gratitude for the love we receive all year.   It does not mean that it is not important to do your best to show gratitude every day.   But by the same token, showing gratitude every day does not mean that a special ceremony every once in a while is not appreciated or worthwhile.   Valentine's Day is a chance for us to take a little extra time to let our partners know what they mean to us.

You don't have to spend a lot of money on flowers or jewelry.   Whatever Valentine's Day rituals resonate with you will work just fine.   Maybe it's something as simple as writing a heartfelt thank you note to your partner.   When it comes to ceremony, it is not the particular rituals that are important. It is the mere fact of having rituals - and reflecting on their underlying meaning - that holds significance.