It would be an innocent-enough question to ask me how I'm celebrating
Valentine's Day (or Christmas or Easter, for that matter). Every year,
you can't help getting used to the build-up immediately after New Year
to this all-important day to express affection for your loved one (or
two, or seventy, depending on your Jihad aspirations). The stores have
switched their displays from holly and glowing snowmen to red,
heart-shaped helium-filled balloons and bouquets of roses. In the
Northern hemisphere where spring is in the air, smitten youngsters are
braving their ways away from the comfort of the hearth onto the bicycle
paths, hiking trails and video arcades in search of amor. The rest of
the animal kingdom is emerging from hibernation and looking for food and
a mate. A decade ago in the Southern hemisphere, I used the pre-Autumn
occasion to propose marriage over the airwaves. How romantic is that?

As I age and seek more meaning to my rituals, it occurs to me that
asking me about my Valentine's Day plans is like my asking how you're
spending Shivratri, Yom Kippur or Eid ul-Fitr. If you weren't Hindu,
Jewish or Muslim, respectively, you'd gawk at me as if I were nuts. Even
if you chose to be in a country at a time when the other celebration
was very important, you wouldn't wake up in the morning gushing with
pride and wondering how you were going to honour the event. Quite
simply, you would not--could not--relate. For example, you may elect to
make it part of your annual ritual to join the throngs at the Chinese
New Year parade, even cheer the human dragon as it bobs and weaves its
way past you, but deep down it's the tourist curiosity that has you on
the sidewalk chomping chow mein rather than some deep identity with the
Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking revelers. For similar reasons, I
exercise tribal allegiance by trying not to miss the annual fireworks
display or lantern festival in my adopted home in Vancouver, Canada.
However, I certainly don't worship at the altar of explosions or flames.

It's not that Valentine's Day is not a part of my Indian heritage as
much as it is an affront to my atheist one that I frown at the
expectation that I should be paying especial homage to my beloved on
this arbitrary 14th day of February. As an atheist, I'm consciously
indifferent to any traditions that were spawned by religion--yes,
including the Olympics, that time-honoured Zeus sports event that
prompted the head of VANOC to invoke God's blessing on this one though I
doubt he had any Greek deity in mind. I don't gush over them even if,
over time, these traditions have been universally embraced and evolved
into nothing more than crass fronts for a commercial agenda. (Lest you
think that I'm being overly cynical, is it any wonder that the U.S.
Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately one billion
valentines are sent each year worldwide, making the day the second
largest card-sending holiday of the year behind Christmas?). Why then
would I care that Pope Gelasius I in AD 496 mandated that Christian
martyr, Valentine be honoured on this day? Perhaps it becomes a toss-up
between the Holy Father and Geoffrey Chaucer in whose circle in the High
Middle Ages the day first became associated with romantic love. But he
was British and I'm in North America so why should his traditions be
relevant to me? (Okay, in Canada, we do pledge allegiance to his monarch
for no apparent reason.) In Canada we love British traditions because
the Brits invaded this place and stamped their authority on it or we'd
be honouring French monarchs but certainly not native Chiefs because
that would be...ahem, barbaric by European standards. By the direction
set by invasion, then, will Chinese, Indian (7-Elven, not casino) and
South American traditions replace British ones in the next couple of
decades or will the new immigrants cow-tow to the oh-so-civilised
traditions of their historically colonial masters.

It's becoming more apparent and accepted that the period around
Christmas was actually of importance to Pagans before they became
pariahs and their tradition hijacked by Christians. Now Christian
beliefs are more openly mocked and their stolen tradition, ironically,
was hijacked long ago by Martel, Fischer Price Toys, Hallmark Cards and
others in the greenback fraternity. If ever there was a noble cause to
support a tradition, it's a secular commercial one. In these tough
times, how can you not bat for the guys who create jobs even though the
pursuit of filthy lucre is their unstated objective? Lump Valentine's
Day and Easter with that. Come the first Monday in April, forget the
egg-laying bunny; I'm heading to the hardware store that would have sold
the nails and the wood without which it would be just the second
workday of the week.

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