The Washington Post

Valentine's Day: The worst holiday of the year

Feb 12, 2010

Is it just us or is Valentine's Day the worst holiday of the year? It's been around for over 1500 years and we still can't get it right. America's Next Great Pundit winner Kevin Huffman talks about why that is.

Kevin, I couldn't agree more. Wouldn't this year be the best year to start? I mean, if ever we've had an opportunity to show our appreciation for our loved ones, it's been over the last week. Being home with kids all week as well, we've already made valentines, baked cookies, and had all sorts of togetherness. My husband works for the Feds so he's been home all week too. We've had lots of quality time. And President's day - I'd prefer my kids go to school and actually learn about presidents rather than stay home another day from school. Any sway with the powers that be?

Good morning!

As I peruse the questions, some varied sentiments about Valentine's Day. I will be sure to publish both sides of this important debate!

I think your comment here is spot-on. Isn't love and romance supposed to be about how you act for the other 364 days of the year? If you can't show love when you are snowed in, a red cellophane card isn't going to help you. Sadly my sway is limited - we need the people to rally!

I and my boyfriend treat V-Day as the sort of deranged, amusing phenomenon it is. The one person who seems to really enjoy Valentine's Day is my mom. She FedExes a box of chocolate and a mushy card across the country for me every year. Sometimes a teddy bear. Is Valentine's Day secretly an outlet for sentimental mothers, or is it just mine?

This is kind of sweet. Definitely it's a sentimental mom outlet and I can always get behind that. Though I did have one friend tell me that it's even worse when you are single and your mom sends you the only present of the day.

hello Kevin, i'm from Shanghai, China. what a coincidence that this year, the traditional Chinese New Year (a time you spend with your family) and the Valentine's Day happens to be at the same day. Which literally makes the Valentine's Day the worst holiday of the year to most of my friends who have a significant other( i'm a freshman in college). some even write on their Renren( chinese version of Facebook) ,"this is just like the cliche question of when your mother and your lover fall into the river at the same time, who will you save first"....what's your opinion?

Great to hear from China. Personally I think it's great that Valentine's Day overlaps with New Year - it eliminates all the pressure and responsibility. I am in favor of doing away with Valentine's Day altogether - my proposal for a merger was kind of a fall-back option. I think China should push V-Day into the river and watch it float away.

Do you think your opinion of Valentine's day might soften if you manage to get a Valentine?

I was prepared for this one.

I don't think so. I got a Valentine back in '98 and I was still fairly bitter.

I'm getting a little weary of people posting online about how stupid Valentine's Day is, how it's a made-up commercial holiday when singletons are made to feel ostracized. (Really, what holiday DOESN'T fit that description nowadays?) You know, folks, Valentine's Day doesn't have to be all about canoodling in dark, overrated restaurants and forking over diamond jewelry. I send funny, smart-aleck cards to ALL my loved ones--family and friends, coupled and single. My mom used to have cute little treats sitting by our breakfast plates when we came down to the kitchen on February 14. For me, it's a day for celebrating all forms of love--caritas, agape, eros--with everyone I care about. And in a cold, dark, grinding winter like this one has been, can't we all use a little more sugar and silliness?

The other side of the argument - and very well-articulated.

By the way, in my research for the column I came across a greeting card spokesperson talking about the industry's embrace of the smart-alecky anti-card. I love that they are playing on both sides at the same time.

How do we avoid the cliche that is V-Day -- card, candy, flowers, candlelit "romantic" dinner? (And, please the gods, no more edible panties!)

I think we should give it the silent treatment. And then, to really shove it in V-Day's face, come back the next week and do something nice and/or romantic for the people we love. Take that, V-Day!

Read Huffman's column: End Valentine's Day

I actually don't hate Valentine's day. It's nothing big in my house, my fiance and I usually cook dinner and tell each other how much we love each other...what's wrong with that? I figure instead of saying do away with Valentine's Day - make EVERYDAY Valentine's Day - but extra-specially February 14th!

More views on the other side. I have a hard time arguing with cooking dinner and saying I love you or even doing it especially on Valentine's Day. You guys are softening my hard-line but mainly by being anti-commercial.

One of my fondest memories of Valentine's Day is my father would leave three chcolate heart boxes. A big one for my mother and small ones for my sister and I. My husband and I do not make a big deal out of Valentine's day but I do miss that box of chocolates and I miss my father who passed away two years ago.

Getting harder and harder to hold the hard line!

This comment gives voice to the importance of traditions, particularly family traditions. Thank you for sharing this - very inspiring for a dad like me.

I hate the commercials where they keep repeating "He went to blank (I'm not going to give them any free ad space!" Makes me want to vomit. But we can't abolish V-Day, especially in this economy. We don't need to add to the number of unemployed. Plus, I love those pink-iced cupcakes! Don't you?

See, right here you are pulling us into the biggest economic conundrum of our times: we got into our current mess through over-consumption of needless goods and services. But if you try to cut back on needless goods and services, you are hurting jobs. What to do?

I say go get a pink cupcake today and get another one on Tuesday. I personally like frosted cookies.

I'm with you, dude, get rid of this holiday! Fortunately, my husband & I agreed at the outset of our marriage 23 years ago that we would not participate in this nonsense. My pet peeve is that the prices of everything get jacked up. A simple card that would normally be a buck 99 goes up to $3.99 or $4.99. Insanity, I tell you. P.S. How bout them Saints?! That's a big enough Valentine gift for me!

The people of New Orleans do not need to celebrate Valentine's Day, that's for sure. Just keep the party going from last Sunday. Thanks for writing!

I think your proposal for creating a "P-and-V-Day" is interesting. But President's Day is already an attempt to roll two holidays into one (it's like a nation-wide office birthday party for Lincoln and Washington, who were born 20 days apart in February. Gather to celebrate the February birthdays!). So, my question to you is where does it stop? If we keep rolling holidays together, I fear we will one day celebrate New Year's, Independence Day, and Cinco de Mayo, etc all in one single terrifying day. If you've got a compelling case for the individuality of P-and-V Day then I'll buy it.

You have unearthed my secret plan. We slowly roll them all into one giant unstoppable force of a holiday that implodes on itself like a dying star.

Except for Thanksgiving. I have much love for Thanksgiving.

Thank you very much for the huge laughs I got reading this article. Especially the image: Watching the slow dance!! So funny. It slayed me and that silly Valentine's Day stuff. I'm single and overjoyed to be so. At least for me, you've put the ultimate and final nail in the red and pink heart-shaped coffin! I will here ever after remember to laugh at myself and the ridiculous idea of V.D. Oh! I've made a pun! Beg your pardon.

This is why I wanted to write for the Post - so I would have the platform to put the nail in the red and pink heart-shaped coffin.

I am very happy that Valentine's Day is on Sunday this year-- now I can stay home by myself and not worry about the pressure!

But how will you avoid the commercials??

By the way, did any of you click on the Vermont Teddy Bear link in the column? That may be the worst ad I have ever seen.

Let me say that I find the commercial aspects of Valentine's Day insipid, patronizing, and often insulting. But I look at Valentine's Day itself the same way I look at Thanksgiving. I believe strongly in cultivating a spirit of gratitude all year; however, I also find it fitting that a day be set aside to concentrate on that gratitude. In the same way, I love my husband all year. But setting aside one day a year to celebrate that love and celebrate each other seems like a positive thing to me. We usually don't spend much money on the celebration -- this year, there will probably be a DVD followed by cuddling by the fire. In years when we go out, we celebrate Valentine's Day Observed -- we go out for a special dinner the weekend before or the weekend after so as to avoid all the ridiculous Valentine's Day specials. Other years I've shown up at his office with a picnic lunch. I suppose my point is that it's possible to jettison the obnoxious and commercial aspects of the holiday while keeping what I consider the core of the holiday -- celebrating the one I love. The other thing you address is being single on Valentine's Day. Alas, I have nothing constructive to offer on this point, but I agree it's stupid that the holiday has been made into such a Big Honking Deal.

We so rarely hear from the middle in DC so this is an important point.

But I can't figure out how to get rid of the commercialism without throwing out the whole thing.

What do you think of the new Q&A format? I found the previous one easier to read.

Putting this up for others' thoughts...

I couldn't agree more. While some people can keep it a fun, light day to show all sorts of people you care about them, you can really do that any time. And should. And then it's really a surprise. For the record, I hate Valentine's Day more when I'm part of a couple than when I'm single. Oh, and I'm female!

I'm with you. I don't think it gets any better when you move from single to a relationship - and it may get worse.

I sent my three daughters (and their husbands) cute valentines with $25 Starbucks cards in them and my granddaughter a cute card with a more age appropriate gift card. They love it, and it makes me happy to do it. So what's wrong with that? I used to love being a room mother for V-day and making cupcakes for the kids. Color me sentimental! I want to go see the movie Valentine's Day even if the reviews weren't great! So there!

I like your ending (and your spirit). People like you are the last, best chance of changing my mind on this topic.

All I have to say is, many high schools are doing away with things like Valentine's Day gifts from person to person because someone, inevitably, gets left out... I get that in elementary school if you bring valentines, they need to be for the whole class...But I don't get why we are still trying to coddle high schoolers? OH - I get it. Let's just wait until they get out into the real world. Then we should start having to give EVERYONE raises because it hurts people's feelings to be left out...

I almost took on some of this in my column. Elementary school is very much in the "everyone gets a trophy, you are all winners" camp on V-Day. My kids give the same card to everyone. And high school is the dog-eat-dog camp - suck it up, buttercup!

But you know what? Having a boyfriend or girlfriend isn't a victory to be celebrated with a public trophy. That, to me, is a huge piece of what is wrong about this madness.

I wholeheartedly agree. When we were single, a band of friends and co-workers staged one of the greatest happy hours I have ever attended. It was an Anti-Valentine's Day celebration, required snarky, awful gifts, and ended with an invitation to leave an establishment, which I will attribute chaos caused by and with those vapid "phrase" hearts. It was also the first occasion where I had any meaningful conversation with my future wife. My question is: Does Valentine's Day-proper deserve some credit - even if it was the mutual loathing that brought us together?

It deserves no credit! I know a couple who met at a funeral - should we thank the Reaper?

I had my six-year-old write "Let's tweet together" on the Valentines he gave out to his class. He also told me he has a special Valentine for a secret someone. He says the person's name starts with a "y" and ends with a "u." Any help? Despite your reasoned diatribe, do you think these innocent Valentine's days for children (pre-three toned carnations) are kind of fun? How long did it take you to marshal the facts presented in your article? How long would it have taken you in, say, 1992?

This is a lot of questions in one. I'll take on the children's valentine question, because my kids like the day (they were not happy with my take). I guess I think that they would like any day that involves school stopping and people passing out cards and candy.

My father, who had four daughters, died four years ago at 88 years of age. Up until the year before he died, he sent each of us a valentine card every Valentine's Day of our lives, no matter where we were: in college, overseas, at the other end of the country, etc. Valentine's Day is very precious to me because of that, not because of all the Hallmark sentiments, and I would give up every box of candy I ever received to have him still with us to hug on Valentine's Day.

The family tradition messages are really great to read. Thanks for sharing these memories and thoughts.

Hi Kevin, I am Swarthmore c/o '93 and just wanted to say hi. Amazing how many of us end up in the DC area.

Quick shout out to Swarthmore!

It also gives me the chance to remember that while in college around 1990, we had a particularly primitive version of internet dating around V-Day one year. We filled out questionnaires, and some computer spat out a list of our top 10 matches. People at Swarthmore needed a lot of help with mating rituals, so I appreciated it. Nonetheless, I wonder whether we have advanced that far from the names-in-the-urn 1,500 years ago?

I am a woman, and I totally hate Valentine's Day. My boyfriend and I have been together for 7 years, and have never "celebrated" it. It seems to exist just to make men spend money and women either get mad at their significant others or feel bad if they are single. My boyfriend and I agree that if you need a special day to say I love you then your relationship isn't based on much.

I fall into this camp too!

Hey has anyone else noticed that the sentimental ones tend to involve people's parents rather than their significant others? Maybe this isn't actually a romantic holiday but something else entirely?

Speaking of family traditions, one of my most constant holiday memories from childhood is making heart-shaped sugar cookies with my mom every year. We frosted some pink and some white, and sprinkled them all with red sugar. When I was studying abroad in college, my mom sent me a tin of those cookies for Valentine's Day and it was one of the best gifts I've ever received.

Another good one.

I've got a three year old. She spent this morning signing her name to V-Day cards for her "class". Good practice for writing her name, granted. But, jeez, I gotta admit I'm a bit worried that if the friends she's made special cards for don't give her a sign of their mutual affection, this may be the day that starts her long slow journey to years of therapy. What to do?!

My take as a parent: be grateful for every future therapy event that was generated by someone other than you.

It is strategically, operationally and tactically sound, logistically supportable and politically feasible. Eliminating it would be? You got me.

In my mind, this may be the only politically feasible action in DC right now.

By the way, don't you just know that President Obama is going to do some ridiculous Valentine's Day thing for Michelle that is going to make the rest of us look bad?

How about instead of getting rid of Valentine's Day, we blow it up into an even bigger frenzy and turn it into a National Holiday? If I had the day off with pay, I would be happy to pay the price of the awful ads and blatant commericalism.

See, this is why I like the merger idea. I really feel like P&V Day could work.

The secret to happy marriage is to always put the moves on your spouse after they finish that first beer. The response is pure Pavlovian. You have to keep your eye on them at parties, though.

I'm struggling with a response here.

Aw. I love Valentine's Day, and I say this as someone who has only rarely has a SO on The Day. But I just love seeing all the red in the middle of dreary grey and white February. I will say, the current Facebook meme of "It's Valentine's Day Week! Change your profile to a picture of your and your SO and post in your status how you met!" vomit-inducing. There's a fine line between happy to be together and smug--when it's hordes of people on FB celebrating their couplehood, it crosses into the latter.

I am completely with you on the Facebook trend this year.  It is just the worst.

Gotta say as much as Valentine's day sucks (last year even though I had a boyfriend it was a moving day for me, and this year I am single and slightly bitter)...I LOVE the Washington Post Love Notes section and dream of the day when I will get one. Any other Valentine's Day haters who are fans of the Love Notes?

I think the Love Notes are in our classifieds, right? Gotta link to the very cool On Love section though...

This highlights the aspirational aspect of the day.


Kevin, I got a kick out of your article regarding "the big day" in two days. Thanks for the insights. I see you're from Ohio--whereabouts in the state?

Thanks! I'm from Bexley, Ohio - just outside of Columbus.

It's a wonderful holiday IF you don't go to a restaurant with the expectation of loving celebration. Restaurants have special Valentine's dinners which (I have never experienced an exception) institutionalize the occasion. Here's how my wife (of 45 years) and I celebrate. I learn a Gershwin song on the piano and give her a private concert. And then I prepare a special dinner, which we enjoy under candlelight. You could ask, "What the devil does your wife do to help?" to which I reply, "This is the one day of the year when she lets me do exactly as I please, which just happens to include playing the piano and cooking." Try it, or something like it. Keep it cozy. Cheers from Larry Hutner

A romantic note that is couples-based. We can all learn a lesson here. Thanks for sharing.

As much as I agree with you, Valentine's Day is a useless holiday. Do you think it is as pointless as Halloween? A holiday which teaches our little ones to ask for candy from strangers and eat so many sweets until they become obese.

Halloween ends at puberty though! (or it should - I'm not down with grownup Halloween parties - now that is truly scary).


Do you think we should ban all "Hallmark holidays" (Mother's Day, Father's Day, Secretary's Day, etc) while we're at it, or just this one?

This is truly tough. I'm going to stick just at V-Day for now. I'm not ready to throw Mother's Day under the bus. Yet.

Hey its a gretatday to show a little caring no matter who it is. A group of friends can go out and support local restaurants even if its for a few appetizers. Most restaurants have specials. It another reason to get out and do something different , discover a new place or a new shoppe. There was even a real St. Valentines martyred in ancient Rome. Thnaks for taking my comment.

A more low key defense here...

I am single and 36. Each year, I send Valentines to my single (not married, no significant other) good friends. Years ago, I spent a small fortune. This year, only three. But then again, I don't have snail mail addresses for a lot of people...

This is nice... as long as you don't say to them, "Wow, there are only three of you left! How about that!"

I have two opinions on valentine's day: I love children's valentine's day with cut out hearts, candy, red glitter and pretty flowers. I think it is sweet and it's a fun way to show people that you love them. I hate adult valentine's day with overpriced roses, crappy chocolate and ridiculous expectations. I had a boyfriend in college that thought that I wanted the whole shebang and it was very embarrassing when he made reservations at this fancy restaurant and bought me flowers and all I got him was a homemade card and some candy hearts.

Thanks for writing.

It's puzzling that some people feel that Valentine's Day must be celebrated with all the commercialistic gusto one can muster, complete with corny pink and red cards, roses, shiny baubles, and a box of chocolate that has been sitting in a store warehouse since August - or else one must be stuck in a lifeless and uncaring relationship. Just because I don't want roses and a box of stale chocolates doesn't mean I am unhappy.

I do not think being anti-Valentine's Day makes one a curmudgeon. Right??

Why are the Valentine's Day ads any worse than the "Presidents' Day sale" ads or the "Columbus Day Sale" ads or the "Big 4th of July Blowout" ads or... My wife and I will occasionally "celebrate" Valentine's Day with a special dinner or a small gift, but that's because with four kids and two jobs it's easy to 'forget' that special person and it's good to be reminded to stop and let that special person know just how special she is. It's not a big deal, . but it's fun, and we ignore all the big ads/specials/whatever's just like we do on Columbus Day or Veterans Day or...

Come on - you have to admit the ads are much worse for Valentine's Day. Part of it is the underlying message. Columbus Day ads don't contain a subliminal message that you are unpatriotic if you don't go.

I absolutely agree with you - and I'm female and married. I scoff when I see the commercials and store decorations. My husband feels frustrated with the answer of 'nothing' when he asks what I want for valentines day. I'm the non-romantic of us two. He shows me he loves me in many ways - I dont need 'stuff' of Feb 14th for him to prove it. So, can't we do away with this holiday, remove the pressure for the romantic partner, remove the guilt from the non-romantic partner, and eliminate the frustration for the single and uncoupled? For full disclosure: I did buy cards, etc for my sons to give out at school and was approrpriately appreciative when they gave me the inevitable heart shaped box of chocolates. I'm not willing to turn them into cynics - yet.

Thanks for this. Though I suspect they will develop their own cynicism soon enough.

Thanks everyone - I enjoyed the questions and comments. Have a happy... weekend!

In This Chat
Kevin Huffman
Kevin Huffman was the winner of the America's Next Great Pundit competition, beating out 4,800 contestants to sign a three-month contract with The Washington Post. His column -- on politics, policy and culture -- appears on Fridays and he contributes regularly to PostPartisan. Huffman is the executive vice president of public affairs at Teach For America, where he has served as a senior manager for nearly 10 years. A native of Ohio, he practiced education law in Washington D.C. and was a bilingual first grade teacher in Texas before joining Teach For America's staff.
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