UNC students voice opinions on modern American celebration of Valentine’s Day

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Supermarket aisles filled with heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are a common sight near Valentine's Day. Photo courtesy of Alani Casiano.

Bright pink and red teddy bears line the shelves of supermarkets alongside candies and boxes of chocolates. Cards sprinkled with glitter and hearts stretch down the aisles. Colorful, heart-shaped balloons float in the air while patrons wait eagerly in line clutching red roses for their beloved. These familiar sights serve as a classic reminder that it’s that time of year again – it’s Valentines’ Day.

A holiday which has existed for hundreds of years, in modern America, Valentine’s Day has become known as a time for the celebration of love and for the exchange of these staple gifts which flood store shelves each year. Some may choose to celebrate the holiday with friends, family, or a romantic partner, or some may choose not to celebrate it at all. But how do UNC students really feel about Valentine’s Day?

Some UNC students have early childhood memories of celebrating the holiday in school. “At my school…you got to decorate your own little box and everybody would bring candy and you would pass out [something for everyone],” said UNC student Dani Warner, a UNC Asian studies major.

Similarly, Austin Huber, a UNC English major,  said, “[At] my elementary school, every Valentine’s Day, we [wrote] cards for everyone…”

Others have annual traditions of celebrating the day with friends and family. 

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“My mom used to buy all the kids in our family little gift baskets for Valentine’s Day, so we’d wake up and it’d be like Christmas,” said Luke Slayback, a UNC psychology major. 

“When I was [living at] home, my dad would always get my mom and I flowers,” Cailey Deter, a UNC chemistry major, said.

For some, it appears that their opinions of Valentine’s Day may have been shaped by their previous experiences with the holiday.

“When I was in high school, it…definitely kind of felt like couples rubbed it in everyone’s face who’s single, like, ‘Look what I got…I’m so special,’” Deter explained. “I feel like everyone just had a hatred towards it because they were expected to go all out for it with balloons and things like that,” she continued.

However, their opinions may have changed as they have grown older and gained new experiences with the holiday.

“But as I got older and the more I either celebrated with friends or just when I was home with my family, it was just like another holiday,” Deter said.

Many students appear critical of the modern emphasis on the commercial aspect of Valentine’s Day, arguing it’s a day that puts an unhealthy amount of pressure on people to buy presents and prove their love for another person superficially.

“It seems as though the big point of it is really to sell Valentine’s Day-themed stuff,” said Griffin Meyers, a UNC senior. “It’s been ingrained in our culture.”

“I feel like it’s a nice idea to show…your partner love or anyone in general, but it’s taken advantage of by companies, who are like, ‘Here! Buy all this stuff because you need it otherwise your girlfriend’s gonna dump you,’” Kathleen Toblesky, a UNC psychology major, said.

“It’s just become too capitalistic and almost feels like if you don’t spend upwards of money on jewelry or a fancy tie,” Eli Shoemaker, a UNC journalism major, said. “It almost feels like you’re guilted for it in the media. I don’t like how everybody capitalizes off of love.”

Similarly, some believe that the fixation on spending money and giving gifts on Valentine’s Day may cause people unnecessary stress or amplify feelings of loneliness that may occur during the holiday season.

“You can want to buy something for someone if you know they’re gonna like it, but I wish it didn’t become something that is a source of stress for people,” Shoemaker said. “That also relates to people feeling stressed out if they’re single…it makes people feel even more lonely because it’s right after Christmas…it doesn’t help with people who have seasonal depression or have family issues or are lonely or just had a breakup…I wish it wasn’t so pressurized and toxic,” she continued.

Deter appeared to share this view, as she explained, “I feel like people hate it because…they always go to thinking, ‘This just reminds me how single I am.’”

Some, then, may point to alternative ways of celebrating the day or at Valentine’s Day traditions in other countries that they believe may be promoting a more positive message.

Warner explained how, “In other countries, like in Japan, they have the thing where they still give chocolate to their crush…but there’s also the tradition of giving chocolate to your friends or…giving stuff to your coworkers…and then in March, there’s a day where those people reciprocate. It’s more…like a ‘Hey, I appreciate you’ than a ‘We’re so in love’ type-thing.”

Valentine’s Day could also be seen by some as a day for treating yourself. Warner said she enjoys buying discounted chocolate a couple days after Valentine’s Day

Some hold the opinion that Valentine’s Day should instead be promoted as a reminder to express love to those you care about every day of the year.

“If you love somebody, you should remind them of that every single day and you should treat every day like Valentine’s Day,” Slayback said.

“I don’t really give my money to the people who highly advertise for it,” Huber said. “Chocolate’s nice just any time of the year. It doesn’t have to be for Valentine’s Day. My partner and I don’t really celebrate it. We just tell each other we love each other every day of the year.”

In this way, many appear to view Valentine’s Day as an important opportunity to remember to show love and appreciation to the people in your life who you care about.

“I think that what’s so important about Valentine’s Day is that it kind of wakes us up and makes us think about how we treat the people we care about and how we treat people in general,” Slayback said.

Toblesky echoed this sentiment when she said, “We should use Valentine’s Day as a reminder to love your partner so that, in a stressful time, you can remember you still have someone who loves you and you love them.”

Deter explained how she believes that “Valentine’s Day is more about being nice to each other and being appreciative instead of being so hard on expectations.”

At the end of the day, for those who choose to celebrate it, it appears that all they truly want for Valentine’s Day is to be reminded that they are loved, to remind their loved ones how much they care about them, and to spread kindness to those around them.

“Even when I wasn’t in a relationship, I was just kind of like, ‘You know, it’s a holiday. You don’t have to be in a relationship to be nice to people,’” Deter said.

Slayback explained that, “At the end of the day, all that matters really is the people that you care about and the relationships you have.”

Whether or not you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day, whether or not the rows and rows of Valentine’s gifts that appear in stores make you smile or scoff, remember that Valentine’s Day could be a unique opportunity to reflect on the people around you who care about you, to remind them how much you appreciate them, and serve as a time to show love, care and kindness to yourself and everyone around you.

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