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Valentine's day: to celebrate or not to celebrate, it's a choice

Valentine's day: to celebrate or not to celebrate, it's a choice

Illustration of Valentine's Day (ANTARA)

"I specifically chose not to celebrate Valentine's Day, but if it's just a simple activity like an agreement with office friends to wear pink clothes together, I'll choose to join it just for fun
Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves alone -- we find it with another, stated author Thomas Merton. Some said there is nothing that cannot be solved by love. Maybe that is the reason why people chose to make a special day to truly celebrate love and affection which has been called Valentine's Day.

Valentine's Day has so far been used as a special moment for people around the world to express affection for lovers, family, or friends.

However, despite the theme of Valentine's Day, it turns out that the day has a bleak history.

Based on the explanation quoted from the official website of America's Library, Valentine Day was originally rooted in the annual Roman festivals where men stripped naked, grabbed goat-dog-skin whips, and spanked young maidens in hopes of increasing their fertility.

The annual pagan celebration, called Lupercalia, was held every year on February 15 and remained wildly popular well into the fifth century A.D.

It was at least 150 years after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, the church, later on, pegged the festival to the legend of St. Valentine.

According to the story, in the third century A.D. Roman Emperor Claudius II, seeking to bolster his army, forbade young men to marry. Valentine, it is said, flouted the ban, performing marriages in secret. For his defiance, Valentine was executed in A.D. 270 on February 14, the story goes.

The day of the Roman festival was moved from February 14 and changed to a day to honor the martyr St. Valentine. From then until now, Valentine's Day is celebrated every February 14 by people around the world.

Valentine's Day has been a popular culture worldwide and was adopted by various communities in various countries through a medium of distribution called globalization.

Valentine's Day throughout the world

In the western world, particularly in North America, Valentine's Day may have been imported from Great Britain, who had colonized the North American region.

In the development of Valentine's Day tradition in the United States, greeting cards have been the most common Valentine's gifts.

The first Valentine cards were produced massively after 1847 by Esther A. Howland from Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father had a big bookstore and stationery store. Howland got the idea to produce Valentine cards after receiving one.

The Greeting Card Association, an industry trade group, says about 190 million Valentine's Day cards are sent each year in the United States.

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world such as Japan, the celebration of Valentine's Day became popular due to massive marketing. It is celebrated as the day when women could give some chocolates to the men they have a crush on.

Illustration of Valentine's Day (ANTARA)
However, in some cases, giving chocolates is not done voluntarily but rather becomes an obligation, especially for those working people in offices. This kind of chocolate given is called giri-choko (obligation chocolate), where "giri" stands for obligation and "choko" means chocolate.

Elsewhere, in Taiwan, the man will give his woman a bar of chocolate and in return, the woman will also give the man some chocolate on White Day which comes a month after Valentine's Day.

However, some other countries have a different perspective about Valentine's Day - for instance in Malaysia, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan - the Valentine celebration has become a controversy and even rejected.

In Malaysia, religious activists have warned Moslems not to celebrate Valentine's Day since it is related to Christianity.

In Saudi Arabia, religious leaders proscribe the sale of Valentine's Day stuff since Valentine is seen as a part of Christian culture. The prohibition resulted in roses and wrapping paper being sold on the black market. The ban is lifted this year, though.

Meanwhile, religious activists in India and Pakistan have begun separate protests against Valentine's Day celebrations, saying they are an insult to Hinduism and Islam.

Valentine's Day in Indonesia

As in Malaysia, Valentine's Day celebrations have become controversial and even lately reaped some rejection in Indonesia.

Several local government agencies in several regions have banned Valentine's Day celebrations arguing that Valentine's traditions do not fit the local culture and customs.

For instance, the local governments in Sukabumi and Bogor through its education agencies have issued some circulars prohibiting Valentine's Day celebrations. Some restrictions mentioned in the circular include parents and educators supervising teenagers to prevent them from celebrating Valentine’s.

Valentine's Day is considered incompatible with the ideology and culture of Indonesia and could potentially lead to negative issues. Nevertheless, the circulars did not mention any particular sanctions imposed on those who break the rule.

Furthermore, the Indonesian Ulema Council through its local branches in some regions appealed to Moslems in the country not to celebrate Valentine's Day which contains values that are considered to be against the Islamic Sharia.

Anti-Valentine Movement in Indonesia (ANTARA)
For this reason, MUI has asked mosque administrators and Islamic educational institutions to organize alternative events during Valentine's Day so that the young Moslems can spend their free time with useful activities that continue to uphold Islamic teachings.

The rejection of - and or the choice not to celebrate - Valentine's Day in Indonesia is mostly related to religious ideology.

For instance, Mayang, a female employee of a state-owned enterprise based in Jakarta City claimed she did not celebrate Valentine's Day simply because it was not something that existed and in line with the teachings of the religion she professed. Therefore, Valentine's Day is not for her to celebrate.

However, she admitted that she will never question or forbid others who want to celebrate it for she views it as a personal right of choice of each individual.

"I specifically chose not to celebrate Valentine's Day, but if it's just a simple activity like an agreement with office friends to wear pink clothes together, I'll choose to join it just for fun," she explained.

To celebrate or not

There was not too much resistance to Valentine's Day celebration in Indonesia because it is considered to be a usual tradition just as celebrating Halloween which is also done by some Indonesians since it is also considered a form of expression, said Saras Dewi, a philosophy lecturer at the Faculty of Cultural Sciences from the University of Indonesia.

However, the wave of rejection towards Valentine is now more intense due to an ideological reason since it is considered to be against the culture and tradition of Indonesia, and the conservative religious understanding, she continued.

"So, some of the reasons not to celebrate Valentine are based on ideology. On the other hand, I think that this rejection is starting to strengthen lately because there is also an effort to separate what is considered a pure tradition from Indonesia, and what is considered a tradition from outside," she argued.

Nevertheless, considering Indonesia is a democratic country that adheres to the notion of freedom of expression, to celebrate or not to celebrate Valentine's Day should be a matter of personal choice of each individual.

"Then it actually should be a freedom of choice whether a person wants to regard Valentine's Day as something irrelevant - it is the right and the view of that person - or another person wants to express affection during Valentine's Day by sending a gift - that is also a right,” she said.

Illustration of Valentine's gifts (ANTARA)
Dewi further suggested that it might violate freedom of expression and a form of prohibition against people who want to celebrate Valentine's Day.

"But if it is still in the form of a suggestion or advice, I think it is alright. The most important thing is to respect the values of others. But what I worry about is the act of persecution such as a mass organizational movement that can create unrest and cause violence, which is dangerous," she said.

She added that people actually can still criticize the Valentine tradition, for instance, its commercialism and the cheesy idea that Valentine is only about romantic love when in fact it could be more.

However, the criticism itself should be done in a peaceful manner and in a way that respects others, not using a view that can cause social friction.

"Because love is something that should be universal, so why should we feel fear of the idea of love. Love should be a universal message of humanity," Dewi remarked.

Therefore, to celebrate or not to celebrate Valentine, it is a personal choice. Eventually, Valentine's Day is only celebrated once a year on February 14. The love itself, however, must be celebrated every day in our life. 

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