Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 18 September 2014

Nuala McKeever: Roses are red, violets are blue, commercialism will sicken you

I keep reading ‘Happy Valentines’ everywhere. Ads on TV talking about ‘This Valentines give her something to remember’ etc. Since when did Valentine’s Day become Valentines?

It’s another Americanism that has got its big commercial feet under our table and made itself at home.

Can we please stop it! It’s not even Valentine’s, it’s Valentines, plural. Are we celebrating some family of saints now? Did St Valentine have a whole raft of siblings who now want in on the act, since it’s so lucrative? Are they all sitting up there in Heaven arguing over who gets the revenue from the 12-inch cushioned cards versus the heart-shaped helium balloons?

I know, I know, Valentine’s Day has long been a commercial pig-out with as much connection to real love and romance as David Cameron’s Big Society has to a caring, involved community life. But, please, can we draw the line at more linguistic imperialism from across the pond?

If we are going to adopt their ways, why don’t we adopt their good ones?

I’ve always thought their Thanksgiving would be a pleasingly simple event to bring here. It’s like Christmas but without the cards and the decorations and the presents and the tacky build-up in shops and on TV. Without the pressure and the terror of not doing enough.

What’s happened in Egypt these last few weeks is a reminder that, deep down, people want dignity and love, not pressure and terror.

And yet so much of what is considered our cultural life now is based on pressure and terror. Christmas is just an extreme example. But most of our celebrations have been hijacked by commercialism. Children’s birthday parties, concerts, holidays, trips to museums — everywhere you turn, fun, entertainment and education are underscored by someone making money out of you and trying to make more money out of you.

I’m not a killjoy. I’m not saying that the only good fun is fun that we’ve knit for free from a selection of lentils and yogurt. No.

I’m not against Valentine’s Day. If you love sending and receiving Valentine cards, great! Knock yourself out with the huge sack of post. I always secretly hope I’ll get some, and when I don’t, I say I don’t believe in all that commercial nonsense.

But surely, in this time of realising that money doesn’t grow on trees and the trees are being cut down anyway, we could consider a day, a celebration, of real love.

I did a course some years ago and one of the homeworks was to do an anonymous good deed every day for six weeks or so. It was a challenge, but a great challenge. It might involve leaving a lottery ticket for someone, or leaving coins in the parking meter for the next person, or buying a drink for the next person coming up to the bar, or putting someone’s bins back in for them, or leaving flowers at someone’s door

It made you think, and think about others. And because it was anonymous it wasn’t about a reward for yourself, because there was no chance to bask in the recipient’s thanks.

It wasn’t rocket science but it was simple and fun and it stimulated the imagination. A day like that once a year, to remind us of our common humanity, would definitely be worth celebrating.

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