This Sunday, you can’t have dinner in a restaurant in Toronto, but you can in New York City. Governor Andrew Cuomo decided last week to allow partial- capacity indoor dining there because Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest restaurant nights of the year.
This gives new meaning to the phrase “dying for love.” Or, if you’re a New York restaurant worker, “dying for work” because you’re not on anyone’s vaccination list.
It also got me thinking what Valentine’s Day means, and how being locked-down or kept from eating out this Sunday night could change our expectations around how we celebrate Valentine’s Day in the future.
As for this Sunday, while the pandemic has hijacked the very public circus of love that Valentine’s Day has become, I’ll be happy to stay at home for Valentine’s dinner with my dearly-beloved.
I won’t regale her with flowers because the flower shops are closed and it’s hard to deliver them to our cottage on a dead-end road on Georgian Bay where the pandemic forced us to flee 10 months ago. I also won’t fuss about getting her a clever card because the stores are closed, and even if WalMart has them, it’s just not worth the drive. Besides, my online craft-making skills aren’t nearly as sophisticated as my online purchasing skills, but I might just try to make an origami heart out of that form Ottawa sent me about my COVID recovery benefit.
In fact, because Valentine’s is, by its very definition, a celebration for just two people rather than a heart-pumping SuperBowl for tens of thousands, it can likely be celebrated better at home than in a public place. And a bonus for a gathering these days that doesn’t automatically turn into a super-spreader event.
Still, I’m a bit of a sap when it comes to Valentine’s. Okay, I’m a vast sap. Back in the stamp and mail days, I would print up a Valentine’s postcard and send it to all my friends of what was then either gender.
My issue with how we celebrate Valentine’s now is that, like Christmas and Hallowe’en, it’s first and foremost a commercial enterprise, and long down the line in importance, a tiny bit of its original intent remains – from Jesus’ birthday, to the Feast of St. Valentine, to All Hallows’ Eve.
But maybe now’s the time to change how we celebrate Valentine’s.
I’m not advocating this because COVID will blunt one of the restaurant industry’s biggest nights of the year. They need more big nights, not fewer.
I’m saying let’s rethink the big public parts of Valentine’s simply because the pandemic’s supposed to change everything.
Remember all that stuff about never going back to Normal, and using the pandemic to forge massive social change we otherwise wouldn’t bother with?
But it was a Thing, for a Moment, and with the truly important issues like racism and sexism, we are starting to see the big changes that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t all been cooped up last summer and forced to pay attention.
But I don’t see much public outcry to reform Valentine’s Day. Maybe the streets are bereft of protestors because it’s so damn cold outside. Maybe we think Valentine’s is perfect as it is, though my own memories of Valentine’s Past start with: “Yikes, it’s Valentine’s next week! What am I going to do? I have to do something!”
The point is, I don’t. And you don’t either.
As the son of a florist, I can tell you that Valentine’s used to be one of the busiest days of the year. Now, not so much. Back when I was a teen delivering those flowers in Edmonton, marriage ruled. Between women and men. And overwhelmingly white women and white men.
Exactly 10 years ago, for the first time in Canadian history, there were more single-person households than couple households (not ‘married’ households either; ‘couple’ households).
Even more, love doesn’t mean the same thing when you’re 17 as it does when you’re 71, as I am now.
All to say, this Sunday, try to be with or connect with someone you love, or even someone you like a lot, and hug them if you can; and if you can’t, tell them you love them, or like them a lot. Then put your hand to your heart.
That’s what Valentine’s really should be all about.
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