Love me tender...
While it can take no time at all to fall in love, it often takes years to find out what true love is, says Salonaz Sami
The same thing happens every year. When February comes and spring begins to knock on the door, we all know it is time for love. In Egypt and across the world, chocolate, flowers and other gifts are exchanged between loved ones on Valentine's Day, a day that is all about expressing love and affection to our husbands, wives, or loved ones. Preparing early for an unusual or surprising gift, a romantic candlelight dinner, or a simple card or poem, are among the best ways of telling your soul mate that you really care.
But why celebrate love on 14 February? The reasons behind the choice of this particular day are uncertain, and if there is a meaning behind the mystery it has yet to be discovered. According to one story, Saint Valentine, the Christian saint after whom Valentine's Day is named, was an early Christian priest living in Rome during the third century CE. When he was discovered to be marrying young lovers in secret against the express orders of the Emperor Claudius, he was executed and later proclaimed to be a martyr for love. It is even said that on the evening before his execution, Valentine wrote the first "Valentine's card" himself, addressed to his beloved and reading "from your Valentine".
However, there are also many other stories about Saint Valentine and the origins of Valentine's Day. According to another oft-quoted story, Valentine was rejected by his loved one, and, heartbroken, killed himself, arranging for his heart to be sent to his lover. It is from this story that the heart-shaped cards and sweets that are now sent to lovers as tokens of romantic love and suffering originate.
Yet, no matter where or when the day originated, today Valentine's Day has become the day on which lovers express their love for each other almost everywhere in the world. Shops, restaurants, radio and television all celebrate Valentine's Day, and, in such an atmosphere, who among us can honestly say that we have not once longed for a little Valentine's Day treat ourselves?
Certainly this is the case in Egypt, and, as Sherif Amin, a businessman who has been married for the past eight years, explains, "February has now become the high season for love" in the country. "People seem incapable of talking about anything other than love around Valentine's Day," he says, noting that though Valentine's Day is not an official holiday, celebrations of it are undeniable, with sales of cosmetics, chocolates and flowers being beaten only on Mother's Day.
Yet, these celebrations are not without their problematic side, with some in Egypt saying that the day should not be celebrated at all. While few people perhaps take this view, there are many who view the increasing celebrations with unease, pointing to problems of the commercialisation of what is, after all, supposed to be a private and romantic day. In the country's better-off districts, for example, it is hard to miss the red outfits of girls and boys carrying gifts wrapped in red paper, all tokens of Valentine's Day, or the often spectacular flower arrangements for sale in the shops.
"Even when you log on to Facebook, or similar sites, you are swamped by the amount of ways dedicated to celebrating it," Amin says, "but all this begs the question of whether we really know what love is, or how to celebrate it."
Magda, Amin's wife, agrees and cites the story of a neighbour's wife who argued with her husband for years about the need to celebrate Valentine's Day together, her husband saying that celebrations of this kind were only meant for young people and were not relevant to adult life. "Even when our poor neighbour went out of her way one Valentine's Day and had a complete makeover, she failed to persuade him since he didn't even notice it," Magda says. "She ended up rather depressed."
In Magda's view, Egyptian married couples usually make the same comments about Valentine's Day. "Gone are the days of romance, they say," she says, adding that all too often romance can disappear amid the routines of married life. "It's not necessarily the man's fault," she adds, since "as they say, it takes two to tango." What married couples need to do, her husband Amin comments, is to "go back to basics. If we remember the importance of love, how lucky we are to have it in our lives, and how to truly celebrate it, then every day would be Valentine's Day."
Remembering their first Valentine's Day, the couple laugh as they share a fond story with Al-Ahram Weekly. "It started perfectly. He picked me up, and we went to my favourite restaurant where he ordered my favourite dish followed by my favourite dessert." Amin cuts in, saying, "this was as far as the date went."
However, the crème Chantilly used in the dessert turned out to be off, "and the poor thing had to run to the toilet every couple of minutes," Amin says, doing his best not to laugh too loud. "At that moment," Magda explains. "I thought it must have been the worst Valentine's ever. But now, looking back, I can't help but laugh."
"The longer you and your loved one stay together," Amin explains, "the more you learn to appreciate and cherish each other, even every embarrassing moment you have shared together." "True love is a bit like wine in that it gets better over time," he adds. "My advice to couples is to use Valentine's Day to renew your feelings for each other and to brush up on your love life. Don't hesitate to take the first step if your partner seems reluctant."