Monday, February 14, 2011

Valentine's Day 2011: "El Día del amor y la amistad" or "Love and Friendship Day"

Last year, I did a post that was a historical and cross-cultural overview of the celebration of Valentine's Day: "St Valentine, His Day, and Its Celebration". In concluding I suggested that the South American celebration of "El Día del amor y la amistad" or "Love and Friendship Day" is probably closest in spirit to the way most in North America, and to a lesser extent in Europe, celebrate--as an opportunity to express romantic love but also other forms of love and friendship. While conservative cultures emphasize the celebration of romantic love within a marital relationship--as did the sermon in the Roman Catholic mass I attended on Sunday the 13th--more liberal ones tend to emphasize that romantic love in dating and courtship. Whether because of commercialization or an appreciation that love takes many forms, including the affection of friendship, Valentine's greetings and gifts are destined for lovers, family members, children, and friends.

Valentine's Cake-decorated by Peggy.

About a week or 10 days ago I searched to see if Saudi Arabia was once again banning Valentine's Day celebrations. All I could find was information on the newer ban in Iran, though on similar grounds of religious and cultural inappropriateness, treating the day as both unIslamic and a Western corruption of Eastern societies. However the main concerns of this item from Agence France-Presse, reprinted in the Saudi Gazette, are the business implications.

Iran shops can’t sell Valentine gifts, cards
TEHRAN: Shops in Iran have been banned from selling Valentine cards and gifts as the traditional lovers’ day gains increasing popularity in the republic, the ILNA news agency reported Sunday.
“In the run-up to Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14 the printing works owners’ union issued a directive banning the printing and distribution of any goods promoting this day,” ILNA news agency reported.
“Printing and producing any goods related to this day including posters, boxes and cards emblazoned with hearts or half-hearts, red roses and any activities promoting this day are banned,” the union said in the directive.
“Outlets that violate this will be legally dealt with,” it warned.
Over the past three decades Iran’s conservative regime has sought to prevent the spread of Western culture among its overwhelmingly young population.
But Valentine’s Day has become very popular in Iran over the past decade, with young men and women exchanging chocolate, flowers, perfume, teddy bears and other gifts on Feb. 14.
Every year gift shops in large cities are festooned with Valentine’s Day paraphernalia and restaurants in Tehran are packed with young men and women out on a date.
However, the trend has been harshly criticized by conservatives who see no room in Muslim culture for such celebrations.
Some nationalist Iranians have also suggested replacing Valentine’s Day with Mehregan – a pre-Islamic but obsolete festival in early October – marking the autumn equinox and honouring the ancient Persian angel of love, Mithra.
– Agence France-Presse

Mithra, Vatican Museum

Arab News finally published an article confirming that Saudi once again is clamping down on the sale of Valentine related gifts.

Florists told to avoid red as Valentine’s Day approaches

Published: Feb 12, 2011 00:55 Updated: Feb 12, 2011 00:55

JEDDAH: Flower shops and gift shops have been asked to remove all red items and heart-shaped gifts until after Valentine’s Day by the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice (Haia).

Celebration of the so-called day of love is frowned upon by authorities in the Kingdom.

Every year, Haia officials visit the shops a few days before Valentine’s Day, giving them instructions to remove all goods that have even the slightest hint of red, including roses, chocolate, wrapping paper and stuffed animals.

“We’re used to seeing Haia members a couple of days before Valentine’s Day asking us to put away all red items until after that day,” said Alan, a salesman at a gift shop.

“They also threaten that if we sell even one red rose or gift they will shut the shop down and get all the staff fired.”

Chocolate shops usually manage to make big sales the day before Valentine’s.

“Many young men come in a day before Valentine’s Day and ask for red chocolate boxes for the day of love,” said Hassan, a salesman at a chocolate shop in Rawda Street.

“They ask for heart-shaped chocolates in red heart-shaped boxes. If Haia men saw us selling those kinds of goods, they would stop our business, saying we are encouraging these young lovebirds.”

Members of the commission mobilize on the streets as part of a mission to trap couples who secretly meet in restaurants and cafés.

“I was so furious last year when I was having a romantic dinner at a restaurant in Jeddah. Haia men marched in and grabbed my husband by his arms and cornered him, while I was surrounded by a number of them asking both of us stupid questions,” said Sara Naseem, a 27-year-old college lecturer.

“I was horrified by how they ambushed us and treated us like we were doing something immoral and inappropriate in public.”

The ban on selling red flowers on Valentine’s Day could have a negative effect on profits, according to florist Alex.

“Our annual plan for Valentine’s Day to keep our profit stable is to sell red flowers and gifts from under the counter or behind closed doors,” he said.

“We don’t sell them to everyone, we only make secret deals with trustworthy people or tell open-minded people to keep ourselves safe. We raise the price from SR10 for a red rose to SR30 because it’s the high season for them.”

Just as I was musing on the ineffectiveness of such a short ban, the obsession with red, ignoring pinkness, and with roses, ignoring other floral declarations, not to mention the irony that in the West there is a big push to go beyond these classic gifts, and as I was trusting Saudis to know how to circumnavigate such restrictions, along came the next article, again from Arab News (Saudi Gazette has nothing that I could find).

Couples find novel ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day

Published: Feb 14, 2011 01:05 Updated: Feb 14, 2011 01:05

JEDDAH: While some retail outlets in the Kingdom have geared up for Valentine’s Day only to be warned by the Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice to remove items that are red, many couples have devised novel ways to celebrate Feb. 14 by exchanging other types of gifts.

Instead of exchanging red roses or balloons, couples are now exchanging jewelry, perfumes, chocolates and other gifts, in addition to having dinner in some of the city’s most popular restaurants.

“I have already bought my wife a gold and diamond bracelet and have reserved seats at a local restaurant to celebrate,” said Amjad, a 28-year-old Saudi who recently got married.

He added that if celebrating Valentine’s Day can bring a couple’s relationship closer, then it is well worth it given the high rate of divorce in the Kingdom.

Restaurants in Jeddah have been reporting a 90 percent increase in reservations for Monday evening. Many expect a very busy night as couples and families celebrate Valentine’s Day.

“Our restaurant, Il Siciliano, has been booked for the evening of Feb. 14 over three weeks ago,” said Mohammed Al-Madani, executive managing director of Al-Maddahia Group, which owns the restaurant.

Other restaurant owners said that although some diners might be celebrating Valentine’s Day on Monday night, they cannot refuse to book patrons who wish to come in on that day. Requesting to know why they are dining on that day would be unacceptable, they said.

Perfume sales have also increased by at least 20-25 percent, said Orjwan Al-Sewaidi, who operates a wholesale shop for designer perfumes in Jeddah’s downtown area.

“Many couples, as well as singles, have been coming in to purchase gifts such as perfumes and cosmetics ahead of Valentine’s Day,” said Mohammed, a salesman at a shop.

However, according to a new survey from Yahoo Maktoob Research, although 80 percent of people in the GCC and MENA region surveyed said they are planning to arrange a special day, evening or weekend for their partner on Valentine’s Day, only one in three couples in the Arab world admit to celebrating the holiday due to regional, religious or governmental restrictions.

“People enjoy rallying around holidays and celebrations, so it’s interesting to hear why they choose to go out of their way to make these seasonal occasions special,” said Tamara Deprez, head of Yahoo Maktoob Research, adding that traditions and personal beliefs play a huge role in the decision to celebrate or not.

The statistic that 80% of people in MENA countries plan to celebrate, but only 30% of couples admit to it, due to societal restrictions, is an interesting one. Perhaps a broadened definition of the day, to serve as an opportunity to express all forms of love, romantic and platonic, would make the celebration more acceptable socially, if not religiously.

While it is important to express one's positive attachments to others at any time of the year, having one day to serve as a reminder doesn't seem to me to be such a bad thing. This year because the day falls so close to the first anniversary of my father's death, I have focused most of my Valentine creativity on my nephew. Besides, the hub is working out of town at the moment, and so I am arguing for a May 2 romantic celebration of the day. Some believe that May 2, as the day of St Valentine of Genoa's death (one of the 3 Saints Valentine), is a fitting day for the celebration.

And how better to celebrate than with a trip to Genoa, and then along the Via Flaminia (site of the martyrdom of St Valentine of Terni, best known for his help to lovers), from Rome to Pesaro, right through my maternal grandparents' home towns at its northern end? I'm sensing some resistance. I may have to settle for a tiara!

The Burmese Ruby Tiara. Note this is the same tiara featured in last year's post--persistence!

How will you mark February 14? or May 2?
If you have celebrated in the past, what was your favourite Valentine's Day?
Any heart-breaker Valentine's Days?
Do you think the day should be celebrated? How?
Other thoughts, comments, impressions, experiences?

Related Post:
St Valentine, His Day, and Its Celebration

See Also:
Qabbani Love Poems for Your Valentine’s Day
Which Would You Celebrate in Saudi Arabia: Valentine Day or The Prophet's Birth? None


Wendy said...

It's definitely a big day for Hallmark and florists!

Susanne said...

Hope you had a good Valentine's Day! Neither Hallmark nor the florists get rich from us, but we do celebrate.

I posted my gift from Andrew on Facebook this morning. :)!/photo.php?fbid=10150139404268698&set=a.488829383697.301647.521448697&theater

Chiara said...

Wendy--and jewellers and chocolatiers! I hope you had a nice day!

Susanne--lovely gift! I guess he's a "keeper" LOL :D
Here is the link that worked for me to find it.

I have a few more hours until the tiara is past due! for this year... LOL :D

Thank you both for your comments. I hope others will throw in their 2 of hearts! :D

oby said...

Happy belated Valentine's day! to everyone...

NidalM said...

I made this comment to a friend on V-day, and its sadly true: In Saudi Arabia, it is easier to buy condoms on Valentines day than it is to buy flowers or chocolates.

I mean, not that condoms make for great gifts or anything, but the message to the masses who want to celebrate the day is: "Skip the foreplay" :P


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