Clash of Comments: Has Valentine's Day actually got any sentimental value?


In this edition's Clash of Comments, Ally Bell and Abi Ramsay battle it out over the importance of Valentine's Day.

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By Abi Ramsay and Ally Bell

Ally Bell - No
Love is in the air. Or so I’m told by this nauseating shop window. Quite why this is the case evades me. Freezing temperatures and impatient shoppers don't scream romance. I imagine people are only holding hands to avoid numb fingers.

For whom do we perform this eye-rolling ritual of Valentine’s day? No, not our attention-deprived partners. The answer lies in ancient Rome…

With whisperings of war, black clouds roll over Palatine Hill. The air grows heavy with shadow and foreboding. Thunder roars to lightning’s dance. Enter Emperor Claudius II, who, projecting his voice over the masses with a supernatural authority (and a cinematic convenience) begins to speak.

“We are at war”, he says, “and if our men are to fight, they must be willing to lay down their lives for Rome. But too many hesitate, with spear in hand, thinking their wives are reason to carry on living. Therefore, I decree marriage outlawed for all men of fighting age. May your hearts go into battle pumping the blood of war”. Emperor Claudius II was a charming man.

The heads below all bow in solemn unison. The crowd prostrate at the feet of their leader. But one head remained forward-facing, lit mysteriously from above. That head was of St. Valentine.

Love was not to be sacrificed in the name of colonial greed. The young priest placed the sanctity of marriage on his shoulders and vowed that holy matrimony would not be denied to those who wished for divine union. With the clashing of swords and marching of feet echoing around the city, Valentine conducted marriage ceremonies in the secret of his own home. A haven for lovers and love alike.

But Claudius was not to be deceived. Annoyed that his men still seemed to have something to live for aside from uniting the lost territories of the old empire, Claudius had Valentine put to death. Just before the blade was raised to bring a dramatic end to this story, the young priest, his eyes shining with pride, turned to his executor and spoke.

“May my name live on forever”, he cried. “May people from this day forth remember how I fought for love to be made instead of war (maybe Valentine was the original 60s hippie). May my legacy be cemented in panic-bought Pandora charms and hurried trips to M&S.  14 February will become a ritual of romance”.

Thank you for indulging me this far. As a quick aside to any keen historian, I know that Valentine’s day began with Chaucer, but I didn’t want to read all of ‘The Parliament of Fowls’. Nevertheless, that was the enthusiastically-told tale of the martyred St. Valentine, the namesake of that wonderful day where we see how far we can dilute the meaning of both ‘cultural event’ and ‘loving relationship’. I can’t help but think that our saint would raise an eyebrow if he were to walk along a high-street and see his name being used as an excuse to shift repurposed Christmas chocolate. That beheading was really worth it. It’s almost as bad as the resurrection of Christ being tied to a magical bunny that hides eggs in the woods.

Although I’m meant to be taking Valentine’s day down, really, I’m completely indifferent to the whole performance (a sentence my girlfriend will be thrilled to read). Perhaps that’s why I’ve spent half this article dramatising the story of a saint. Couples holding hands over a home-cooked meal that tastes of desperation and YouTube tutorials. Petrol station flower stands suspiciously empty. Two 14 year-olds that got together in January professing their undying love. Not for me.

Of course, it’s a bit of a capitalist invention, kept alive each year by the struggling personalised-chocolate industry. But name me a Western tradition that isn’t. And no, the problem isn’t that it makes singletons depressed. The reason Valentine’s day needs to be left behind is because it’s a sad reminder of our poor excuse for a culture. Love in a heart-shaped keyring? Really?

We’ve held this story up by the ankles and shaken all the loose-change and meaning from its pockets. Now let’s drop it and do the same to Halloween.

Abi Ramsay - Yes
St. Valentine, Eros and Cupid – the original love icons. Now we look at A$AP Rocky and Rihanna having a baby, or Zendaya and Tom Holland buying a house. Like the cheesy Love Actually quote, celebrity gossip reminds us that “love actually is all around us” – but why has that become a bad thing?

Whether it’s the messy and intangible love shown on Euphoria, or the “POV” trends on TikTok where the algorithm somehow manages to present you with 25 edits of your favourite celebrity (hi, Sebastian Stan), or even Instagram, where your peers post photos with their loved ones – we are constantly exposed to love. And, what better way to celebrate it, than with a day designed around cheesy, outrageous and overzealous declarations of adoration?

Valentine’s Day. The day either makes your heart sing, or makes you shudder with dread. For some, Valentine's Day has lost all value, with a few viewing it as a commercialised scam to make you feel lonely, or spend money. I however, don’t agree with this evaluation, with Valentine’s Day acting as a universal day to spread love – something which we can’t take for granted, especially in our modern world.

Last year, Valentine’s Day was marred by nationwide restrictions, with the UK being placed in the third lockdown from 6 January. This meant that many couples were separated across the nation, with virtual dates becoming the new norm, and stay-at-home plans becoming necessary. These restrictions made it difficult for those in relationships, which means the lack of restrictions for this Valentine’s Day is a cause for celebration. However, the restrictions did allow a rise in ‘Galentine’s Day’ and celebrating with your housemates; something my house did in fashion with far too many homemade cocktails and karaoke.

One of the wonderful things about Valentine’s Day is that it is universal. Of course, there is no denying it is cheesy, but from a young age you are encouraged to get your crush a card and a present – perhaps allowing future generations to be in tune with their emotional vulnerability. Past Valentine’s Days can also become great anecdotes to look back on, and in primary school they usually involve a marriage or two. No matter what age, Valentine’s stories can be heard, with some couples celebrating their seventieth year in a relationship, and others celebrating a budding romance.

But it also isn’t a day reserved for relationships. Although advertised as such, it doesn’t mean those of us who are single can’t have fun and enjoy the day of cheesy celebrations. In fact, I’ve found that you can have more fun spending time with your friends, than partaking in the expected Valentine’s plans as a couple. It can act as a day which allows you to celebrate all those you love in your life; whether that be family, friends, a partner, or even a pet.

So is Valentine’s day cheesy and commercialised? Without a doubt, though, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing! The constant advertisements for meals, cards, chocolates and flowers, means there are heavy discounts available for most things you like. Food delivery services usually have special discounts, and even the fanciest of restaurants will have a special price on a meal out (which aren’t just reserved for couples!). This year, my friends and I are going to exploit Ask Italian, who are offering a three course set menu and alcohol for £25 as well as free love-heart breadsticks – what’s not to like?

And, if you think the discounts on Valentine’s Day are big, the sales on chocolate and roses the day after are usually even bigger, as supermarkets need to get rid of the love-heart shaped chocolate to prepare for easter eggs. So, is Valentine's Day still a celebration of St. Valentine and the day he was martyred on February 14 in AD 269? No. But does it allow you to have a bit of fun regardless of your relationship status? Absolutely - something we shouldn’t be changing.