Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day: Love it or Leave it?

"Life without love is like a tree without blossoms or fruit." - Khalil Gibran

Sabah el kheir LOVEanese! So, today is THE day. And no, I don't mean that it's the 7th anniversary of the Hariri assassination (although I will admit that a friend who will remain anonymous actually thought we didn't have class/work today in Lebanon because of Valentine's Day). No, no... though that was a very big event in Lebanon's past, today is the "day of love."

For anyone that's in a relationship, you know what that means: dinner reservations, flowers, nice gifts, love poems (or bad attempt at love poems), even some bad gifts. For anyone that's single, today is pretty much the worst day ever, one that is saturated with condemnation and criticism. Valentine's Day is supposedly celebrating the Christian Saint, Valentine (or Valentinus), and may have originated from the Roman fertility festival known as Lupercalia.

However, in today's world, VDay comes with Valentine's Day Tweets, V-Day marketing promotions, Facebook pages painted in red hearts, Hollywood movies dedicated to the day (OK, not surprising)...

Even a Google Doodle! Bonus: check out this link for the same video, but also for some cool comments at the bottom.

Love is all around us here in Lebanon, from heart-shaped graffiti on the highway walls, to the cuddling-lovers in downtown Beirut next to the Roman Bathhouse ruins. Has anyone ever stopped to wonder why we "celebrate" this day? Anyone ever thought about why it's so tough to book a table for two on February 14 in Lebanon? Has anyone ever stopped to wonder why when you're passing by Vera Moda, or Librairie Antoine, or Books and Pens, or Maliks, or Deek Duke, there's Valentine's Day messages posted everywhere? 

Vera Moda (clothing store) - Hamra

Both photos are from Librairie Antoine (bookstore) - Hamra

COOP (grocer) - Hamra

Maliks/Books and Pens (stationery) - Bliss St.

Deek Duke (restaurant) - Hamra

MTC Touch Valentine's Day advertisement and the Almaza VDay advert below

It's in our art too. Taken from the blog of my friend Sareen, Ink on the Side

Don't you think it's a bit weird that we do this? We = Lebanese. Sure, it's done in the U.S., but has anyone really ever thought about how this "tradition" was imported to Lebanon? Let me give you a hint:

Yep. Murr TV. While Valentine's Day may have been celebrated in sparse areas of Lebanon before, it was apparently only in the last few years when MTV started using Valentine's Day in their promotional "Je t'aiMurr" (a play on the French way of saying "I love you"). While the person who told me this is someone I trust as a credible source, I can only imagine it was inevitable with globalization and the onset of corporate capitalism flooding Lebanon like botox and silicon flooding the bodies of plastic surgery tourists.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why Valentine's Day is celebrated period? There's a lot of answers out there. Which one you get generally depends on someone's mood, relationship status, and overall life outlook. Some might say that it's a "fake" holiday, invented by companies like Hallmark to market products and rub everyone's lovey-dovey kissing faces in the faces of those who don't have anyone to kiss. Other people say that it's a wonderful holiday where we can all come together and celebrate love, life, and relationships. Check out this infographic for some history:

It might be too small to read, so just check the link

You can check out this website or the Wikipedia page of Valentine's Day for more information, but basically it's a bit like Christmas. Love, beauty, sexuality, passion, fertility, and desire have been celebrated by people throughout history such as the Greeks (Aphrodite), the Romans (Venus), and many other pagan groups such as some from Mesopotamia who had this one:

Meet ʻAṯtaru. You might remember her from the second Hell Boy movie.

But it was only when early Christian martyr(s) named Valentine became a saint(s) and celebrated through the Catholic Church by Pope Gelasius I in the late 3rd century AD on the day February 14th
based on the Gregorian Calendar to "replace" the pagan feast Lupercalia (Dude, it's JUST like Christmas!). It was later in the European Middle Ages did Valentine's Day become associated with love and romance. According to The History Channel, "During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine's Day should be a day for romance." Over time, the love theme was expanded even more, and it transformed from a religious celebration with elements of romance to a full-fledged day dedicated to love.

So, that's the history. But what about all the talk about the connection between Valentine's Day and money? It is undoubtedly influenced by product marketing. How do I know? Check out this infographic:

Perhaps there are a few bucks to be made from Valentine's Day, but that could be said basically for anything (Christmas, Barbara/Halloween, Independence Day, birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, graduations, engagements, births, deaths...). This is just simply the world we live in. However, we do not live in a world that is dominated solely by American or European discourses of love either. Let's not forget Layla and Majnun, 'Antar wa 'Abla, The Thousand and One Nights, and others that are all older than tales like Romeo and Juliet or Tristan and Isolde. For instance, check out this website about romance in Arab literature that I stumbled upon today. Love is and always has been in the Arab world/Western Asia, and it's almost as old as we are. Perhaps we just express it differently, or abide by different rules. Here in Lebanon, this is an example of what we have to contend with related to love. Find me a card for THIS:

So, here we are again... two camps: one pro Valentine's, the other against. There's really enough rhetorical and argumentative ammunition (so to speak) for both sides to debate each other, but neither is really going to win. Valentine's Day is here, and it's probably going to stay, just like our subjective opinions about it and regardless if whether they reflect Lebanese or more "Western" conceptions of love.

My opinion is that if you're in a relationship, do what you would normally do. Why wait for one day to treat your sweetheart better when you could do it every day? Go out and eat somewhere, just so no one has to cook. If you drink, go buy some wine. Watch a movie. Light a candle (or two... or three...). Talk about how you first met. Talk about how you felt. Talk about the feelings you shared for each other leading up to your first date; your first kiss; your togetherness. Just enjoy the night together. Forget the cliché gifts, the roses, the chocolate hearts. And if you want to do something, do something different. Make him or her a card from scratch. Write them a poem. Buy some lingerie! Just be creative, and most important of all: have fun together!

For anyone single, today shouldn't be a day to be sad. Didn't you hear? It's #InternetionalSinglesAwarenessDay! Today is YOUR DAY!! Forget those "boring, lovey-dovey" couples staying at home or eating out at a restaurant! Go have fun, meet someone new! Go out, go get drinks, go dancing! Put on some nice clothes, grab a beer or a glass of wine, flirt, smile, laugh, surround yourself with good friends, and see where the night takes you. Just because you're single doesn't mean you can't enjoy life too. Cheer up! Don't think about being lonely, think about new prospects and new loves. Don't fret about the couple making out in the corner. Make your own corner; make your own fun!

Today is a day other people have determined is a day that we should all love each other, or especially one person. Well, here at LOVEanon, I recommend doing that everyday. So enjoy yourself, enjoy life, remember that since today is the day of love, you can do much more than just be romantic. Love your mom, your dad, your sister, your brother, your friends, your pets. Love the dekaneh owner who you buy from. Love your man2oushe baker! Just love!

Most of all though: Love yourself; Love your life; Spread the love.

Happy Valentine's Day,
-Ogie <3

P.S. if anyone's looking for a place to go tonight for dinner, I suggest Spaghetteria Italiana in Ain El Mreisseh on Dar El Mraiseh Street across from Beirut by Bike, or one of these suggestions by RagMag.

P.P.S. If you're looking for some alternative solutions as to what you can do, check out this article from Beirut.com for some funny recommendations.

UPDATE: For Valentine's Day 2013, I was interviewed by a journalist from the Daily Star (Brooke Anderson) for a feature article. You can check out a LOVEanon post I wrote about it with the full interview here.


  1. I just wanted to add that I could have done a weeks worth of events or something, but I'm glad I didn't. It's just one day, let's not blow it out of proportion.

  2. Nice! History, marketing, suggestions... much better than the angry/annoyed posts that are flooding facebook!

  3. Your tone is way optimistic. I think, if Valentine is for those in a relationship, then as u said they shouldn't wait for a specific day to treat themselves better or special. if it is to rejoice the idea of love, i totally support it, but the love between people isn't there at the first place. You don't suppose all lebanese are as loving and optimistis as you are, do you? !

    1. Haha Bayan, I don't know. Maybe, maybe not. But regardless if they are or are not, that doesn't mean they can't be this loving or optimistic. If the love isn't there in the first place, they have a lot bigger problems I think than whether or not they should "celebrate."

      I think there's a lot of love out there, and a lot of potential too.