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     Volume 4 Issue 33 | February 11, 2005 |


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Musings

Letter From New York

Malcolm Beith

Woe should be me. Yet another Valentine's Day approaches, and here I am, single. Apparently, I should be dreading the day. T-shirts emblazoned with love is in pollutes the air stare at me from street stands; hundreds of anti-Valentine's Web sites sell greeting cards that say things like "Cr*ppy Valentine's Day, you loser" or quote philosopher Jose Ortega y Gasset lamenting that "One day, the fantasy evaporates and with it, love dies." I got an e-mail the other day saying that there's an anti-Valentine's "protest" taking place downtown. Maybe I should join in. They do say misery loves company.

Nah. Single or not, I love Valentine's Day. John Lennon imagined a world without heaven, no religion, too ... all the people living life in peace -- woo hoo, that's Valentine's Day! In our globalised world, February 14 is the only holiday that we all share, regardless of race, religion, nationality and marital status. Halloween? A pagan European ritual. Christmas? No getting around the religious significance. New Year's comes close to being universal, but what about the world's two biggest countries, China and India, which have their own lunar festivities? Capitalism alone dictates V-Day.

Beg to differ? Hallmark sells hundreds of millions of cards on Valentine's Day. Almost every country now rates the holiday as one of its top shopping days of the year. Roses, diamonds, cards, e-cards, chocolates, cakes, stuffed animals, lingerie ... Freedom may not be on the march, but Valentine, the patron saint of consumerism, sure is. Chinese businesses, whose customers have qixi, their own lover's day on the seventh of the seventh lunar month, prefer February 14 because of the promise of more purchases. Thais have reportedly increased their Valentine spending by about 20 percent each year since 2000. Even in Iran, the holiday is celebrated by the more reform-minded. OK, so Saudi authorities frown on it. But they don't really smile about all that much anyway.

They should, because if there's anything that truly does bind humanity today, it's consumerism. Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to belittle those who choose to get sentimental on this fateful day. I, too, have had the good and the bad. I once gave a girl I loved a necklace: she gave me two more years. When I was about 16, I not only got love letters from three girls in my class, I received one from my friend's sister and her pals, saying I made their "knees tremble." (In a good way, I like to think.) Good times.

Then there's the bad. I gave a girlfriend a pretty little box of very expensive chocolates and failed to notice her dismay throughout dinner. (She later admitted that the size of the box implied she was fat.) I once got dumped on V-Day, too. Victory for her, I guess.

But commercialism conquers all. This February 14, if you're in a relationship, buy a rose and boost Colombia's economy. If you're proposing, splurge on that diamond from South Africa. Married? Be thankful that Hallmark has reminded you which special day you're supposed to be remembering. Singles, go to one of those anti-Valentine parties where you'll meet other free-and-easy souls. Your holiday experience is as legitimate as any other. Perhaps even more so, for you'll be getting to the heart of the holiday -- not the love, but the lucre.

© 2005, Newsweek Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted by permission.

 

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