By Helen Ovbiagele, Woman Editor, Vanguard
Two young ladies were discussing February 14th, Valentine’s Day; the world acclaimed day for showing admiration or appreciation for someone you love or admire.

“I’ve already told my boyfriend what present I would like for this year’s Valentine, and where I would like to be taken to,” said Miss A. “Last year he only gave me a card and couldn’t even take me out to an eatery. If he doesn’t give me something worthwhile this year, I’m going to leave him. It’s not as if he doesn’t work and earn good money. I like him but he’s so mean about presents and money. How can a man give his girlfriend only a card for Valentine’s day?”

“You’re lucky you got a card last year,” said Miss B. “My boyfriend didn’t even remember Valentine’s day. He said he doesn’t believe in it, and that it’s a pagan festival. It’s a lie o! He just uses that as an excuse not to spend money on me.

I’m fed up with him. I’m giving him just this last chance to prove he cares for me. Come and see what my sister’s boyfriend bought for her last Valentine’s day! Two pairs of jeans and tops and a pair of stiletto heels from a high class boutique in Ikeja!”

“You see now? Your sister is lucky. If he marries her, he’s sure to take very good care of her. A man who can’t give good presents while going out with a girl, will not give her anything when they marry. This is the time to make a good impression.”

Since these two young ladies are known to me, I broke into their conversation to ask them what Valentine’s day means to them. Without any hesitation they both said it’s a day to celebrate romantic love by giving presents to the woman in your life. What about the man in your life, I asked them.

“Auntie,” said Miss B. “Valentine was a man, and he started the gift-giving to celebrate romantic love, so, it’s the man who gives presents to his lady; not the other way round. A worthy man would give a worthy gift to his lady to show how much he appreciates her.”

“I see. This is a modern day thing, I suppose. In our experience you got cards, and sometimes from total strangers who don’t even sign their names, and who may never make physical contact with you. The excitement was knowing that you had secret admirers. For married or steady couples, cards with the appropriate loving words were given.

Some men may choose that day to propose marriage to their girlfriends, and some may wed on Valentine’s day to emphasize the love in their relationship.”

“What about gifts, auntie?” asked Miss A. “That matter more than loving words which the man may not mean.”

“And entertainment, auntie – going to the pictures and to an exotic restaurant? There’s nothing romantic in giving cards, even if they contain the most tender words,” added Miss B.

“That’s true, auntie,” concurred Miss A. “If my boyfriend brings me a card again this year, I shall throw it at him and walk out on him, wherever we happen to be.”

“That would not be ladylike, would it? Gifts could be given but they weren’t the focal point of the day. Small gifts as a token, not designer dresses, bags and shoes that will set the man back tens of thousands of naira. Tender words were more appreciated if they matched your partners’ normal attitude towards you. Outing? Sure! You strolled on the beach or in the park; you drove around to relax. You could also go to watch a film or go dance in some decent places if Valentine’s day falls on a weekend.”

“Auntie! All those are boring o!” chorused my young friends. “The gifts should be expensive. The outing should be to an exotic place. That will make the man know that you have class.”

“And they will appreciate you more than if you settle for those cheap gestures that auntie enumerated for celebrating the day,” added Miss B.
“Collecting expensive gifts from boyfriends could invite violence later when you no longer fancy him and want to dump him. We hear of girls being beaten or having acid thrown on them for dumping their boyfriends, after these have spent heavily on them. So, be careful and don’t go asking for gifts of any sort. You’re both workers. Manage what you earn.”

The pair giggled and nodded, murmuring their thanks for the advice.
“Helen, you lost that argument,” teased a friend who had been a silent listener, after my young friends had left.

“Well, you win some, and you lose some. Still, they may reflect on my points in their quiet moments and agree with me that expression of love is more appropriate for Valentine’s day than getting expensive gifts.”

“No, they won’t. All around them are advertisements in diverse forms which tell the young that Valentine’s day is all about gifts and entertainment. The true meaning is lost, just like Christmas is losing its true meaning in some developed countries of the world.”

Sadly, this is true. There are several explanations attached to St. Valentine’s day, the most popular being the one about the priest called Valentine, who secretly conducted weddings for couples in love, when the Roman Emperor of the day put a ban on weddings, because it was found that the unmarried soldiers were more committed to their military work than the married.
It was said priest Valentine fell in love with the warder’s daughter while in jail, and before he was executed, he left her a small gift and a love note signed, from your Valentine. True or fiction, the bottom line is that the day is for marking affection for our fellow human beings, particularly those in a romantic relationships. It’s now been turned into a commercial thing by business people and the entertainment world.

On the internet you’ll find loads of ‘perfect Valentine gifts’ advertised. Then you have reduced hotel rates for a ‘romantic night away’. All designed to add fun to your celebration, to the extent that some young girls may get pregnant during the Valentine ‘romp’ because their boyfriends convince them that it’s a day to celebrate their relationship with intimacy.

With unwanted pregnancy comes likely abortion which is not always done in a safe place, and which could endanger the girl’s life.
Parents, schools, and NGOs working with youths should counsel young people each year on what Valentine’s Day is about and how it should be celebrated. This may help steer them away from material things and intimacy, and emphasize showing appreciation to our loved ones, and love and help to the underprivileged and the lonely.

As we mark this day today, let’s reflect on our love and appreciation for those around us, and go out of our way to show love to those who have no-one to care for them. This may involve helping the poor, the aged, the sick, and the lonely, with needed gifts, prayer, company and words of encouragement

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You have said it all.  I am sure if St. Valentine was to come back to life, he would weep for the gross abuse of the day he set aside to demonstrate pure love and care to friends, loved ones and the less privileged. 

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