Valentin’s Day 2010 – Sunday, 14.2.2010
The Mirror, Vol. 14, No. 651
Year after year, it is interesting to observe that Valentine’s Day gets more public attention and controversy, especially in a number of Asian countries. A Cambodian blogger, Ms. Chak Sopheak, collected a number of different voices under the title Cambodia: Valentine’s Day Sparks Controversy. She refers also to a public appeal of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, which “initiated five-minute spots educating the teenagers about the ‘meaning of the Valentine’s day’ in order that the young will be encouraged to expresses their love to family first, followed by teachers and then friends.”
Of course everybody is free to try to give their own interpretation of Valentine’s Day. But to say that it is about “to expresses their love to family first, followed by teachers and then friends” has no basis in the history of this celebration. Valentine’s Day – historically – celebrates the love between man and women, against the rules of the the society represented by the state. To declare Valentine’s Day not to be about lovers, man and women, but about some wider family and friends relations, is just another attempt of the nature against which the original Valentine is said to have fought.
There are hardly any explanations of Valentine’s day which clearly say: The original message is that Valentine was against the regulations of the authorities to prevent men and women to commit themselves to each other, against the law.
It is about this love. This is the message.
But as it is with old traditions, it is not always possible to verify them in detail. A holiday to remember a person of this name was established already in the year 496, more than 1500 years ago. But his story became more widely known only after the technology to print books by using movable individual letters – not only to copy books in handwriting – was invented around the year 1450 in Germany, and the Readings of the Saints (a Latin book Legenda Sanctorum) was reprinted often. I contained also the story of Valentine.
According to this, Valentine was a Christian monk who defended his belief even when he was made to appear before the emperor Marcus Aurelius Claudius who ruled only briefly in the years 268 to 270), but he was imprisoned as he was not prepared to compromise his positions, and was arrested and later executed.
Later reports say that he did not agree with the government’s rule to restrict solders to get married. The government thought that their romantic relationships would make them not good members of society as assigned by the government to be soldiers. But Valentine secretly organized their marriages, against this rule and breaking the law, as he considered it a basic right not to remain single. A case of an early human rights advocate.
The tradition says that while he was already in prison, he befriended the daughter of the prison guard, and on the day before his execution he is said to have written to her a note “From your Valentine.”
To reflect about Valentine’s Day is to reflect about this story. It is not “to be nice to everybody” but it is about a person who defended the right of men and women to be together, even defending and maintaining his position to the end of losing his life for not complying with the law, but supporting love.
It is obviously a complete misuse of the tradition of Valentine when this day is now used by boys to persuade and force their girlfriends to have sex as if this would be the meaning of Valentine’s Day, or even to rape one woman by a group of men. But it is also a misuse to this tradition to use it and to say it is a day of general friendship and love with family first, then teachers, and friends.
To do so is to close one’s eyes from the fact that – quite obviously in many countries – young people are not prepared to accept traditional restrictions imposed on their relations between men and women. And that such changes are not just the result of westernization we tried to show at last year’s Valentine Day with pictures from the People’s Republic of China and from North Korea – two countries really not know to be inclined to “Western” ideologies.
In a different cultural context – to give another example – also the society in Pakistan is without broad orientation in this context:
“Our homeland the Islamic Republic of Pakistan is also deeply influenced by events like Valentine’s Day which were unknown in the sub continent before but now after so many years of celebrating it, it seems like it has merged with our culture.
“In Pakistan the day is celebrated equally to many different countries of the world our youth celebrates it with more intensity and passion than our Independence Day, or any of our historic days which means so much for the whole Nation but our youth and our teenagers seems to have been so captivated by the Western ways and laws that they actually give more preference to celebrating these holidays then our own. Obviously it’s not just the youth which is to be blamed, but our society has created an image which is identical to the West.
“Every year in Pakistan people are getting more enthusiastic, energetic and more passionate to celebrate Valentine’s Day. If we talk about the outcome of celebrating this day we will get to know that there are two possible outcomes of this day, one is enjoyed by the participants while the other is enjoyed by the businesses and owner of different businesses.”
In spite of all the confusions which become obvious at this day, it is a challenge to face the question seriously: How are we, in our different societies, going to find solutions which the events and feelings and activities of each Valentine’s Day pose about the relations between women and men in our times and societies. Just to appeal to the traditions does not lead to solutions accepted by many people.
In Cambodia, there is the Chbab Srey, a traditional code of conduct for Cambodian women. The response I often receive: I am very much in favor of keeping our Khmer traditions, but I do not accept that the Chbab Srey says: “Don’t speak in a way as if you consider him as equal… My dear, no matter what your husband did wrong, I tell you: to be patient, don’t say anything without the husband being present.” Such partial, selective acceptance will hardly prevent that for many people Valentine’s Day may result in negative memories, because an open discourse on where to find new ways and new relationships is hardly happening.
Even so, Valentine’s Day provides every year a new impulse to think ahead. To boldly think, and to find way to live what is found to be right. Like Valentine, who was rather prepared to face death than to give up what he was sure was right.
Please recommend The Mirror also to your colleagues and friends.