EXPAT LIFE: I don’t know whether my head is just in the clouds too much these days but it was only when I came to the USA that I noticed how big a deal that Valentines’ Day is.
Sure, in Australia we celebrate it quite a bit. Restaurants back home look forward to it as a huge date on their event calendars. Florists, chocolatiers and newsagents also get inundated by enthusiastic lovers, family members and hopefuls, clamoring to buy that special something for their loved ones.
But Australia isn’t alone. Lots of other countries celebrate this day in their own special way including France, the UK, Singapore, Japan, and much of Latin America. One of my children’s class mothers, originally from Peru, told me that her country calls this day ‘Día del Amor y la Amistad’ or the ‘Day of Love and Friendship’. Just the Spanish name alone conjures up romantic images.
Valentine’s Day is special in the Philippines too, apparently. Amongst the many expat stories that float weekly across my computer, there was a sweet headline reading “Expat Filipinos hire Cupids to serenade lovers back home with songs and teddy bears”. What a beautiful gesture!
In the USA, where they seem to know how to celebrate all special occasions well, Valentine’s Day is a big deal. You couldn’t forget it, even if you tried. It’s not the greeting card stands in the big shops, or the paraphernalia that party shops seem to stock that remind you of this celebratory day, although that is pretty mind-boggling in itself. It is the personal decorations on individual houses everywhere you go, that lets you know there is an important event coming soon.
Front doors with red or pink heart shaped garlands, window display lights (like Christmas lights except red or pink) and flags mounted at the front of houses with cute friendship images waving in the wind. Some couples even display their own personal flag with their names proudly emblazoned for all to see.
At my daughter’s New Jersey elementary class this morning, love was very much in the air. Most of the children dressed up in red or pink, including the boys. They had a wonderful Valentine’s Day breakfast complete with pink bagels, pink cupcakes and themed craft. As in most American schools, the kids here all give valentines cards and receive them from every other child in the class. A valentine given here though, is a sign of friendship, not romance. Even my middle schooler received valentines from his friends, both boys and girls. In an environment where all too many things are considered uncool by children, in case their peers frown upon it, Valentine’s Day opens the door for kids to embrace their friends and peers in an inclusive and positive way.
Without even including this massive exchange of home-made and bought cards that this must entail country-wide, Americans are reported to send over 190 million valentines each year. That is a staggering number, and obviously a significant contributor to the US economy.
For cynical Australians, it would be easy to say that Americans are the victims of their own rampant commercialism. However, I would prefer to think of the US as a country that knows how to celebrate their traditions in style. After all, no matter where you come from on this planet, couldn’t we all do with more love and friendship?
Happy Valentine’s Day to you and yours!