Before Galentines was memorialised in pop-culture by iconoclast and generally iconic lady, Leslie Knope, there was nine-year-old me who, every year, eagerly stayed up the night before Valentine’s Day scribbling, gluing, and creating masterpieces for all my friends at school. Some years, these love notes would be sparkly, sticky, and definitely made from recycled wrapping paper, and on others, these cards would be store bought, with cute puppies plastered on the cover. I still have vivid memories of dragging my mom through the Valentine’s Day aisles in Target to choose the most obnoxiously pastel, baby-animal-on-the-cover cards I could find, to hand out in class parties. I imagine to most of you, my childhood celebrating Valentine’s Day in America sounds exhausting; compulsory card-buying, constructing a ‘card mailbox’ from old cereal boxes, and writing out cheesy Hallmark one-liners. You’re not entirely wrong. Cupid visits America once a year, and he’s commercial, a capitalist, and a fan of cheap chocolate.
I’ve noticed, as we grow older, we tend to shed our childhood appreciation for holidays, in favour of a more-healthy dose of cynicism. Christmas, Valentine’s Day slowly reveal themselves for what they have become in our modern society: profit-motivated commercial holidays that bank on our feelings of obligation to sell chocolate and flowers. I’m sure you’ve heard the, “what’s the point in celebrating love on one specific day?” or the “time to buy discounted chocolate on the 15th” many times. I personally say the latter every day. Whether you yourself are an avid fan of the holiday, or anti-love in general, I’m confident you’ve gone through a ‘note’ phase, which for me, started at my very first Valentine’s Day party in second grade.
The ‘note’ phase is what I like to call the period in your life where you probably discovered Post-Its, or started writing a personal diary, or felt like expressing your anger through a harshly scribbled note taped to your bedroom door so no one would bother you. The latter never works in an Asian household by the way–I’ve tried and tested. At its essence, it is when we, oftentimes in our adolescence, express ourselves through writing, no matter the length. I know as a writer, it’s bold of me to assume we all did this, but I’m sure at the very least, you’ve written some Christmas cards in your day. The ‘note’ phase was really, not a phase mom, but rather, the beginning of a tradition that has affected my identity today.
My best friend of almost ten years has been writing me letters since the beginning of our friendship. I know she’s reading this now shaking her head because it was in fact me, who forced her into the exchange, after bombarding her with multiple pages of I’m 14 and this is deep material. It was fun, and a unique way to write a diary. I would pen down random thoughts on paper, and actually receive a response. What was exceptionally special was that on February 14th, significant other or not, we would find a way to send each other a letter. Some were pink and red cards, and some were scrappy pieces of line paper ripped out of notebooks, but the sentiment stayed the same. This is my modern-day love letter, and every year, it brings out the nine-year-old in me little by little. I find myself sat back on my bedroom floor, music blaring, scribbling, gluing, and cutting, and other than my questionable taste in music, not much changes year by year.
The modern-day love letter comes in many forms, and I have found myself collecting and sharing them in all its mediums. Spotify playlists, restaurant receipts, business cards, clothing tags, disposable camera photos, polaroids, Post-Its, train tickets, and concert tickets. All these physical scraps and memento piece together moments of our lives, and prove its one worth celebrating, in all its complexities. Phew, are you sick of me romanticising normal life yet?
Whether you’re spending the day with loved ones, facetiming best friends, or having a self-care day (or all three at once), I highly recommend taking some time to create your own love letter, as a testament to the current place you are in your life. I recommend journaling, writing out a cheesy card to a best friend, or even having a self-timered photoshoot at home, which yes you absolutely need to do at least once. We traded cocktails for couches and date nights for distance, as we accept this new sense of isolated normality and the fact that human connection has inevitably become largely digital. However, despite these conditions, the past twelve months have shown how love, relationships, and joy can triumph through adaptation and improvisation –which is exactly what we’re good at. I think we’ve all assumed Cupid got Covid this year, and Valentine’s day is cancelled, but I hope you dedicate this day to your loved ones –galentines, pets, best friends, significant others, and family – and to self-care, which is one of the truest forms of love. I hope you take time to unleash your inner child, whether that’s re-watching your favourite Disney princess movies or busting out some arts and crafts (with glitter), as I’m doing, to create more memories to cherish forever.
Ketki currently studies Classics and English Literature at King’s College London. She is the Editor-in-chief of Strand Magazine, KCL’s ‘Arts and Culture’ publication. She explores what "multi-cultural identity" looks like, in London and beyond, within her writing. She is the author of the exclusive digital column "Ketki & The City", where she explores life at the intersection of Gen Z and diaspora.