Here it is again, February 14th. The second biggest Hallmark holiday of all -- at least in America, where Valentine's Day is the day the florists, bakeries and greeting card sellers often make the most money of any holiday period all year long. I used to hate, hate, hate Valentine's Day in America because inevitably I was sans romantic partner and had to watch all the women I worked with as they smugly accepted their deliveries of a dozen (or more) roses and balloons at the office. Bah, humbug!
Of course, I'm a lot more friendly toward Valentine's Day NOW... for obvious reasons. It doesn't matter to me one iota whether or not I get flowers or a gift from Georges (even though it's certainly nice if I do); it's just the idea of having the one I love next to me that counts the most. We both like to be acknowledged on this day just as on our birthdays or Christmas. And this is our first "married" Valentine's Day, too! We have the Little Guy with us for the weekend, so we may end up spending the evening right here (unless we can guilt one of the teens into sticking around after we put the Little Guy to bed so we can sneak out for a nice little dinner à deux) but we can crack a bottle of champagne and celebrate in our own way (read into that what you will).
It occurs to me, however, that despite the day being celebrated in both my native and adopted countries (unlike Halloween which has never really caught on over here), they are celebrated in slightly different ways. In America, the holiday is definitely driven by Madison Avenue advertisers and marketing experts who have brainwashed the general population into thinking if they don't buy (or receive) that big fat diamond ring or that stuffed hippo holding the heart or that dozen roses (marked up from $25 to $150 or more, just for this day), then they are defective in some way. So it's gotten to be less about finding creative and special ways to express your love, and more about how much you spend to express your love.
They even get the kids started on it young and they turn it into a popularity contest. I remember being in the 2nd grade, circa 1969 I think, and the teacher (oh, how I hated her, that Miss Rush, the same thoughtless bitch who made us do square-dancing at age 7 and who cast me as the APPLE in the class play, a move I believe is directly responsible for the fact that I am definitely APPLE-SHAPED as an adult) made all the kids bring in those dorky little cartoon kiddy Valentine's cards for our classmates. We had to make special "mailboxes" out of shoe boxes we had covered with red or pink construction paper and decorated with glitter and other crap, with a mail slot cut into the top of the box. Then on Valentine's Day we had to sit in a circle with our mailboxes and take turns putting our Valentine cards in each other's boxes. We had been instructed to bring a card for every child in the class to make it fair, but of course some kids ONLY made cards for the kids they liked (and really, why should you be forced to give a card to the kid who picked his nose and wiped it on your chair, or the one who always called you names and made you cry?) So some children received more cards than others, and of course it became public knowledge which kids were so favored (I was somewhere in the middle, not getting the most cards but not getting the least either, thank God). Even then I was aware that some kids got a lot less cards than others and that they probably felt really bad about that.
Now in France, despite most people claiming to be non-believers, nearly every day on the annual calendar, not otherwise devoted to the big holidays like Christmas or Armistice Day, is still labeled as an official Saint's Day of one type or another (they are even marked on the 2009 agenda book I bought). So today is known as SAINT Valentin's day. There is a Saint Georges' day (April 23rd), and although there was no Saint Lisa, there is a Saint Elisabeth's day is on November 17th and I supposed I could claim it as "my" Saint's Day. There was even a Saint Amour whose day is August 9th.
France claims to hold some of the relics of the actual Saint Valentin and every year there is a festival devoted to this day.
The French hold the current (albeit unofficial) world title for being the most romantic. Certainly here in Paris you can find couples of all ages kissing passionately on park benches and in the metro and leaning up against walls and strolling along the Seine at ANY time of the year and no one bats an eyelash, whereas public displays of affection on that scale are rarely seen and generally frowned upon in the U.S. (where, if you witnessed a couple in a deep embrace you might be likely to utter these romantic words under your breath: "Geez, get a room, will ya?")
I have seen Valentine's displays in store windows throughout Paris and also down south in Saint Raphael (the lingerie shops of course do a banner business this time of year), and of course the chocolatiers and patisseries have made their heart-themed yummy specialties. Although in France there is no Hallmark or equivalent chain store that specializes in just greeting cards and the like, there are papeteries where you can find Valentine's cards and gift bags and very pretty wrapping paper. Book stores have created special display tables with romantically themed (even erotic -- this being France -- books). So this is roughly the same as you'd find back in the States. It just seems that there is a lot less of it and that the whole thing is a lot less "in your face" than in the U.S. As in many other things, France and America celebrate the same things, but the French don't like to over-do it. They seem to prefer the subtle approach where America prefers the bigger, bolder gesture.
Maybe the difference is in the general attitude about the need for Valentine's Day in the first place. Although the holiday has been celebrated here for centuries, just as in other parts of the word, I'm not sure it's as big a deal here, emotionally speaking, as it is back home. Two nights ago at the dinner table, we talked about Valentine's Day with the teenagers. They are both in relationships at the moment, so we (Georges and I) were curious what they each had planned with their respective copin/copine and were a bit surprised to learn that the boy was more in favor of Valentine's day than his sister, who very definitively stated that when you are in love, EVERY day is a lover's day and there shouldn't be one special day for it. While I can't necessarily argue with her logic on that, it is clear she is the more practical and less romantic of the two kids; I think the boy perhaps takes after his very romantic father on this one.
Whatever the similarities or differences may be between the two cultures and how each chooses to acknowledge (or ignore) this Day of Love, one thing is crystal clear: I now have the love I waited for my entire life, and he's in my life not just today but each and EVERY day, and for that I am more grateful than words can ever express. He makes me feel special when I feel anything but. He makes me feel appreciated when others do not. He makes me feel beautiful even first thing in the morning when I have morning breath, sheet marks on my cheek, mascara smudged-eyes and hair that would give Medusa a run for her money. He makes me feel valued and important to him. And he gives me the opportunity every day to show him my love for him, which is infinite in its depth and yet which grows bigger every single day.
I just hope he knows how important he is to me. And that I can't do any of it without him by my side.
Happy Valentine's Day, my Georges. Tu es mon coeur.