Many people worldwide celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14 by showing appreciation towards their loved ones. Still, many others hate the day for varied reasons such as budgetary constraints and feelings of loneliness, among other justified reasons. ESTHER KIRAGU takes a look at the meaning of much-hyped Valentine’s Day and makes suggestions on how you can spend it.

For a long time now, February has been crowned as the month of love. People often mark Valentine’s Day with dinner arrangements, flowers, chocolates and exchange of gifts. Though the day was previously thought to be a foreign concept, it has now become quite popular locally.

The Valentine’s frenzy is believed to have roots in several different legends, both pagan and ancient Roman. The Romans are said to have celebrated the feast of Lupercalia, where men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had slaughtered, so as to make them fertile.

Possibly the holiday got its Christian roots from a legend told of two men, both named Valentine, who were martyred. Three hundred years A.D, the Roman emperors demanded that everyone believe in the Roman gods. Valentine, a Christian priest who had been thrown in prison for his teachings, was beheaded on February 14, not only because he was a Christian, but also because he had performed a miracle. The miracle was that he had supposedly cured the jailer’s daughter of her blindness. The night before he was executed, he wrote a farewell letter to the jailer’s daughter, signing it “From Your Valentine.”

Another Valentine was an Italian bishop who lived at about the same time. He was imprisoned because he secretly married couples, contrary to the laws of the Roman emperor. Some legends say he was burned at the stake. Today Valentine’s Day is versatile and is marked in different ways. Although it is not a public holiday in many countries, including Kenya, many restaurants, hotels and shopping centres remain busy around this time of the year.

Florists, greeting card companies and jewelry stores have transformed the holiday into a commercial display. Additionally, many people use this day as an opportunity to not only celebrate love, but also celebrate friendships and family. Others choose to propose or get married on this very day.

“If it happens that a proposal is in the offing, then there’s no harm at all in hyping it up a little on Valentine’s Day. But proposals are a serious business, and shouldn’t be undertaken lightly, just because of an annual romantic event. So don’t feel pressured to make one or expect one just because it’s February,” advises Dr Chris Hart, a psychologist and relationship expert who writes and broadcasts.

Why the fuss about Valentine’s?

Valentine’s day is a special moment to show love to your cherished ones. Even though it is a fact that we should love our significant others every day, sometimes we all need that nudge to slow down and be deliberate about reflecting what love is and expressing it to our loved ones. Valentine’s day provides this opportunity. It need not only be romantic love; you could use the day to show some love to the special people in your life and that includes family, friends, caregivers and neighbours. These are the people who perhaps give meaning to your life and you may need to show them how much they mean to you, especially if you’ve become a little lax and out of touch for sometime.

“I once set up a surprise romantic mini restaurant on the balcony of my house for my wife. Some of my neighbours got on with it, dressed the kids as waiters in red, cooked a special menu including peaches poached in champagne, and sprang it all on my wife as a surprise. The kids thought it was all enormous fun, especially keeping the arrangements a surprise,” says Dr Hart.

Although most women won’t admit it openly, secretly they place high love hopes on Valentine’s. Chris says that it is common for young women to love the whole idea of Valentine’s and expect their boyfriends to make a huge fuss of them that evening – but most boyfriends loath the events and activities around that day – especially the planning and expense. However, he says no couple can possibly evade the event, but a much better idea is to stay clear of all the crazy special menus, crowded restaurants, expensive flowers and so on, and instead do something simple, romantic and personally special.

The day may be a highly anticipated holiday for many couples, especially if you’re celebrating your first or second occasion with a loved one. However, as much as some people idealise the day, others consider it to be a hallmark holiday marketing ploy and would rather skip the flowery and expensive meal in a restaurant and merrymaking in nightclubs or discos for a quiet day indoors.

If your beloved one has his or her heart set on a highly romantic day yet you are not up for the motions of that day, you can make it through this often mushy day by still being loving. By knowing and understanding your partner’s love language, you can communicate your love effectively despite your feelings about the day. Dr. Gary Chapman, an internationally respected marriage and family life expert, in his book, The Five Love Languages, talks about different ways of expressing love. These include, gifts, spending quality time together, acts of service, physical touch and using words to affirmation.

While it is obvious that commercialism pervades Valentine’s Day, it is still in your hands to make the occasion a special, unique, and genuine celebration of love in the best way you know how. “Regardless of the fact that Valentine’s has now become heavily commercialised, raising everyone’s expectations and stress levels to the extent that many people no longer enjoy it at all, the day should be a simple opportunity for couples to have a bit of romantic fun and show attention and affection to one another. It should be low cost, low key, high on personal details and low on glitz,” says Dr Hart.

Despite one’s feelings about the day, you may want to consider what your loved one feels about Valentine’s. Try to be understanding of his or her feelings about the day and strive to meet each other halfway. Not trying at all on Valentine’s Day can be a sign of contempt for your entire relationship. If this is the case, you’ve probably got larger problems than not celebrating Valentine’s Day.  It may be time to reassess the relationship rather than ignoring the day only to cause tension and fight on this most romantic of days.

If budgetary constraints are the reason underlying your dislike of Valentine’s Day, keep things simple and affordable. You could cook dinner at home and then watch a movie together. Remember simple gestures such as expressing your love through hugs, holding hands, kissing, making love, or sending each other love notes, are some of the free, inexhaustible and probably the kindest, most connecting and best gifts of all. Other cheap ideas yet meaningful ways to spice up the day include taking a walk together or even going for a picnic at the park.

You could also opt for an unconventional Valentine’s Day such as spending the day with the less fortunate, providing your services to charitable organisations or even donating blood to hospitals, among many others.

Should you find yourself alone and lonely on valentines, don’t sulk and complain. Negativity begets negativity and you will feel the effects of being a downer all day. There is nothing worse than hearing someone spend all day complaining about their lack of prospects, heartache, or ticking biological clock. Some couples will be forced to share the romance hundred of miles away. But for them, the distance is just part of the daily frustration that comes with being in a long-distance relationship.

As cliché as this is, communication remains vital whether by phone or Internet. Plan your schedules the night before and tell each other when you are free to talk in order to avoid confusion or disappointment on the day.

Although it’s easy to be swept up by romantic comedies, candlelight dinners, past lovers, roses, chocolates and teddy bears, there is much in life that is equally, if not more, important. Try making a list of all the blessings in your life. You need to remind yourself of this every day and not just Valentine’s Day.

If yours is a new relationship, don’t read any further into gifts or gestures on Valentine’s Day when you’re a fresh couple. Instead of getting swept away with romance, focus on forming a bond of trust and friendship that will make your relationship healthy and long lasting.

If you are considering calling your ex on valentines, ABORT! On a day like this it’s natural to have your thoughts drift to the last person you were with, but you broke up for a reason and valentines isn’t a good enough reason to change that. Avoid the Valentine’s Day emotional hangover and don’t attempt a reconnect.

Whatever you do, be sure to enjoy your valentines day!