From Iceland — Sincere Lamentations In A Cynical World

Sincere Lamentations In A Cynical World

Published March 15, 2012

Sincere Lamentations In A Cynical World

Last month Valentine’s Day came and went with its usual masquerade of chocolate hearts, red flowers, embarrassingly ambitious dates, I-love-yous, and well, you know the drill. February 14 used to be just a regular day in Iceland, and its recent upgrade to a commemoration of a 500-year-old Catholic saint, requiring lovers to categorically confess their love for each other, independent of how long their Facebook-status has been shouting ‘In a relationship,’ gives me the goose bumps.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t hate Valentine’s Day, I’m quite indifferent to its celebration around the world, but its growing prominence on our small island, going only a few years back, suggests more about the spread of capitalism than the spread of love.
I know what you are thinking… This guy is just annoyed because he doesn’t have a girlfriend. So he is probably just writing this piece of self-indulgent bitterness in the hope of not having to spend the next Valentine’s Day by himself, right? And you are right that I don’t have a girlfriend, but I’m not the only one with a grudge against this holiday being celebrated in Iceland.
I was online chatting with a friend about Valentine’s Day last week. She was at work, quite bored, her job has something to do with web-design, she was posting photos of pancakes and hadn’t had anything to eat. I said that it was plain cruel to starve a bored web-designer. “This is cruel,” she said and gave me a link to a web-page full of Valentine’s Day photos that she was supposed to be working on.
On this web-page you could find inspiration for your own Valentine’s treat, such as toast with a hole in the middle shaped as a heart, filled with a fried egg, a heart shaped cake, post-it stickers with sentences such as “You’re just write for me,” “I like the way you roll” and a bunch of handmade decorations in pink and red and white, shaped like hearts or little mice.
Yeah, well that is just cruel, I thought, but instead of indulging in what I took to be my friend’s pungency, I asked her why she thought it was cruel. “Because you are single,” I asked, “and you hate Valentine’s Day? You know it is just like hating Christmas if you are not getting any presents” (…which is actually a pretty decent reason to hate Christmas).
“I didn’t say I hated Valentine’s Day,” she replied to my surprise. “It is just cruel that I have to make shit like that,” she said, referring to the web-design. “Valentine’s Day can be fun, you should check out the poem my mum wrote for me on my Facebook-wall.”
So I did, only to find the sweetest and the most adorable greeting from her mother.
Well, I turned out to be quite mistaken regarding this friend of mine. I really thought she was just the type to hate Valentine’s Day, but then she didn’t. And I think I might know why. It is probably because even though she is currently defying capitalism, its demographics and the nuclear family by not having a boyfriend or a girlfriend, she still feels loved on the Day of Love, capital D, capital L.
I came to realize that where she comes from Valentine’s Day is a much more general celebration than the exclusive psychodramatic romanticism I associate with the Icelandic “custom.” And of course that is how it’s supposed to be, a day of love rather than lovers. After explaining this to her, she told me that in Colombia, where she went as an exchange student, they celebrate “The Day of Love and Friendship” in September. “It’s really nice, you celebrate your friends too.”
How terribly wrong our spongy isolated, westernized Icelandic culture has become, I thought. People are celebrating their love for each other all over the world, and what we have extracted is just the tacky Hollywood version of it. Where is the Icelandic Friends’ Day? Where is the day for filial affection and motherly love? Where is the Love?
And then I just remembered two beautiful days of traditional Icelandic custom, Bóndadagur and Konudagur. Bóndadagur, the day of husbands, is the first day of Þorri, which according to the old Nordic calendar was the fourth month of winter. Konudagur, the day of the woman, is similarly the first day of Góa, the fifth month. Nowadays, husbands and wives respectively give and receive flowers on those days, as a token for exactly the romantic love that Iceland’s version of Valentine’s Day claims to celebrate. So why should it even be necessary for us to adopt a watered down version of another day of love?
Well, some would argue, Bóndadagur and Konudagur are fine to celebrate the marital love, rather than romantic love, but I think the distinction would be anachronous. I propose these days include every romantic relationship, although I am sure people would think twice before asking someone out on a first date on Konudagur. That would be plain intimidating.
To this, one might want to object, that Valentine’s Day gives people exactly this opportunity to make a pass at someone they’ve been observing from far away for some time. But then I ask why do you need a stupid day to summon your spirits to ask someone out? And what are you going to do if she/he turns you down? Wait another whole year for the next opportunity? Did I mention that it would be plain intimidating?
No. Valentine’s Day, in its current Icelandic lame adapted form, does not make sense to me. Here’s my alternative proposal:
Let’s make Valentine’s Day an all-inclusive day of love and friendship. We already have two highly distinguished and culturally sophisticated days for celebrating in particular the romantic relationships we are all wishing for. Let’s just change the name of this blessed day. I propose the adaption of the Colombian people; “The Day of Love and Friendship.” It sounds a lot less Capitalistic.
Or, let’s drop Valentine’s Day completely! And stop the spread of Capitalism as well. Let me explain how:
First, we already celebrate Gay Pride in August. That day has become an inter-sexual, trans-generational celebration for universal love and friendship in Icelandic society. I heard somewhere that more people attend the Gay Pride parade than the one on the June 17, our National Independence Day. In my mind Gay Pride is the Day of Love.
Second, and here is where I get real tacky, let’s make every day of the year be a day for love. A day without love—and remember the connotations here—without love of whatever form, is a bad day. I know philosopher Martha Nussbaum would agree. To the question of why people form societies, she answered in a recent documentary, that it was out of the need we have for loving and being loved.
Well, you can still say I’m bitter because I’m out of love, but then you would be adhering to the capitalistic notion of exploited romantic love. To those who think that not having a girlfriend might have something to do with me writing this article: Well, you might be right. But you are seriously mistaken if you think that I need a special day for asking one out. So boo-yah!

Support The Reykjavík Grapevine!
Buy subscriptions, t-shirts and more from our shop right here!


Enough. Stop. Now.

Enough. Stop. Now.


Show Me More!