My funny Valentine
Valentine’s Day is, for many, the most dreaded holiday on the calendar. Those who are already spoken for go along with it and pretend to enjoy it. For 24 hours, they act as though their love were as sweet as Godiva chocolates and their lives as rosy as an Agnes B flower bouquet. Singles, on the other hand, are relegated to spending the night alone at home with a tub of Häagen-Dazs in front of the television or meeting up with other singles to commiserate the way the years have slipped through their fingers. No one wants to be a wall flower or shrinking violet.
Valentine’s Day is a quintessential Hallmark holiday. It was conceived, created and blown out of proportion by florists and chocolate makers. Originally dedicated to the Valentine of Rome, a martyred priest in the Middle Ages, the holiday was later removed from the Christian calendar because there wasn’t much to celebrate. Historically, the day had nothing to do with either love or romance, until English poet Geoffrey Chaucer associated the fateful day with a pair of love birds in an obscure 15th-century poem. Chaucer could never have imagined the magnitude of harm he would inflict on mankind, nor could he have guessed that his words would lead to cash registers around the world ringing nonstop on the horrid winter day.
Different cultures celebrate Valentine’s Day in their own unique way. While the Western world sticks to the chauvinistic tradition of men buying women trinkets, most Arab countries ban Valentine’s Day merchandise as they are considered too Christian for comfort. In Japan and Korea, the gift giving customs are reversed. Women are obligated to give chocolates to not only their other halves but also every male coworker in the office. A month later on March 14, dubbed the “White Day,” the tables are turned and men reciprocate with bigger gifts. Valentine’s Day is such a huge industry in Japan that February 14 accounts for half of the country’s annual chocolate sales.
In Hong Kong where everything is measured in dollars and cents, lovers take Valentine’s Day celebrations to a whole new level. The clock has barely struck 9am when the first flower delivery arrives in the office at the third cubicle in the first row – two dozen long stem roses from Jacqueline’s doting husband, one for each year of marriage. Then one delivery after another, expensive bouquets go to Mary, Susie, Cindy and Queenie, each one bigger and more impressive than the last. The intra-office popularity contest continues throughout the morning. The winner, crowned the Mrs. with the Mostest, will get a day of bragging rights in the department. The losers – ladies who haven’t received anything by lunch time – will keep their heads down for the rest of the day and make excuses for their negligent husbands or imaginary boyfriends. That explains why a large number of men are said to be “on a business trip” every 14 February.
Another funny – and expensive – aspect of Valentine’s Day in Hong Kong is dining out. Restaurants are booked solid weeks in advance. Seating by the window must be reserved three months ahead of time. If a miracle happens and you manage to find a table, you are handed the special Valentine’s set dinner menu designed to trap silly couples who are too smitten to notice the steep prices. Who could have guessed that mushroom soup with rose petals and heart-shaped sirloin on February 14 would cost five times more than mushroom soup without rose petals and regularly-shaped sirloin just the day before? Here is a piece of advice: if you must celebrate this silly holiday, then do your wallet a favor and eat out the week before.
Valentine’s Day is as contrived as it is an unnecessary source of stress for everyone, single or otherwise. Until we realise that gift giving is only sweet when it is unexpected, all those obligatory flowers and chocolates are wasted in exchange for a fleeting moment of self-validation. Nevertheless, Valentine’s Day does serve as an important reminder that relationships are based on sacrifices and mutual gratification. If you look at it that way, maybe the holiday does have some meaning after all.