In the Valentine’s Day installment of The Princess Diaries books (my ultimate guides to life and love), Princess Mia Thermopolis of Genovia is determined to get her boyfriend, Michael, into the Valentine’s Day spirit.
Michael’s problem is twofold: first, he’s too smart for his own good; and second, he’s far from the hopeless romantic that Mia needs in a mate. (Actually, Michael’s problem is threefold—the third problem being his pre-Mia relationship with Judith Gershner, notable for cloning a fruit fly—but that’s besides the point.)
Mia wants a present, preferably edible (chocolate) or wearable (jewelry), but most of all she wants Michael to confess his undying love for her. The only problem is that Michael is staunchly opposed to the commercialization of love; he even has the nerve to call it a Hallmark holiday, a “crass commercial ritual” stripped of meaning.
Mia’s outrage at the suggestion that they opt out of observing the holiday is touching.
“Opt out?” she asks her diary. “Opt out of Cupids holding ‘Be Mine’ banners and ‘I choo-choo-choose you’ train engine valentines and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate with gooey unidentifiable things in the middle and little candy hearts that taste like chalk but say stuff like ‘U R Hot’ on them? Is EVERYONE insane?”
I’m with Mia. What’s wrong with having one day in the year to indulge on sweets, on trinkets, on cutesy sayings? Are we so mature that we can’t reserve this day for sweaty palms and chocolate?
Let me back up. Valentine’s Day is my favorite holiday, by far. It has all other major holidays beat: stores, aside from Chinese restaurants, are open (as amazing as Chinese restaurants are, Christmas is still a loser); it doesn’t come with all the pressure of yearlong resolutions; there are no white dresses destined to be muddied; there are no rituals or fasting; risen bread is totally an option.
And then there’s the pink. Don’t get me started on the pink.
Pink is obviously the best color in the world for many reasons. It’s the color of dogs’ and bunnies’ noses, as well as newborn mammals of other species. It’s also the stage name of Alecia Beth Moore.
Finally, pink is made up of a combination of red and purple light, two colors located on opposite ends of the visible spectrum. If pink didn’t seem like the union of star-crossed lovers before, Michael Moyer’s Scientific American article called “Stop This Absurd War on the Color Pink” (really, stop it) proves that it is: “The laws of the universe have conspired against pink lasers.”
Pink has clearly beaten all odds—it practically has its own holiday, for Pete’s sake—and it deserves to be celebrated.
And then there’s the issue broached by Michael Moskowitz, of Princess Diaries lore: Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday. This is true.
But is any holiday not commercial, at this point? Christmas certainly is, and so are Easter, the Fourth of July, and Halloween. (So are birthdays, for that matter.) But that doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate them. Isn’t celebrating Valentine’s Day the way we do nowadays better than how the Romans spent Feb. 14 (namely, by sacrificing animals and then whipping women with the animals’ hides in an effort to boost fertility)? It was one William Shakespeare who romanticized the day. (Shakespeare also invented a whole host of things, namely the words “throw up” and “rant,” and even if you do both of those things, Valentine’s Day appears to be here to stay.)
Perhaps Rutgers anthropologist Helen Fisher best addresses the point of Valentine’s Day being a commercial holiday.
“This isn’t a command performance,” she said. “If people didn’t want to buy Hallmark cards, they would not be bought, and Hallmark would go out of business.”
We’re afraid of wanting to want things. It’s okay to want things.
Actually; it’s more than okay to want things, in fact, it’s exhilarating, the act of wanting, even if it’s entirely fruitless.
In elementary school, Valentine’s Day was a day of intense anticipation and delicious anxiety. Into this one day was funneled an entire year’s worth of giddiness; I lay awake on Feb. 13, wondering if the apple of my eye (my desk mate, who often comforted me when I sobbed over multiplication with a reassuring, “You’re good at geography!”) would slip a note into my desk pleading, “Be mine!”
The day of, I combed through my valentines meticulously, discarding all of the hollow, barely-personalized, store-bought cards, separating the chocolate from the cardboard, and saving the handmade letters. Ah, the handmade cards. I must slip in here the detail that I made cards by hand every year from kindergarten to sixth grade; it took me hours to master the perfect language in cards to my crushes (I could never be too outright; I had to maintain an air of mystery while also making known my appreciation).
It didn’t matter that there was no secret admirer lurking behind a potted fern. It was invigorating to feel alive, to wonder if love was really in the air, to sit among the pink boxes and piles of valentines and wring my hands and dream up possibilities. What might have been was so thrilling to contemplate that it didn’t make any difference that it never was.
This Valentine’s Day, I’ll be choosing among the copious articles of pink clothing in my closet and eating all of the chocolate I can get my hands on. It might make me a sucker, but hey, at least I’m not whipping anybody with animal carcasses.
Davis is a member of the class of 2017.