Maybe it’s because I’m cynical, but I have never been a fan of Hallmark. I always thought it was cheesy, cliché, and above all, a marketing tactic to get people to spend unnecessarily. But before I go any further, I need to add a disclaimer; this post isn’t a Hallmark-bash. I’m not aiming to put down the company. I’m simply trying to convey an opinion – MY opinion – on the industry as a whole and the effect it has on our perception of the holidays. Let me explain.
February is Valentines Day. Yes, that’s right. The whole month is one holiday. Why? Because Hallmark (and various other companies) spend the first two weeks marketing their products. Come buy these chocolates, come pick up your cards. You need more TEDDY BEARS!! Beginning on February 1st, we’re bombarded with commercials and images reminding us that Valentines Day is around the corner, and if you don’t get these things for your loved ones, then you obviously don’t love them. After Valentines Day, all the stores need to get rid of their stock, so they drop prices while the commercials alter their message to say, don’t worry if you forgot, there’s still time to remedy your mistake.
The consequence of this marketing scheme is that the original meaning of the holiday becomes lost. Valentines Day has become something that most people dread. If you’re in a relationship, you may feel forced to spend exorbitant amounts of money for your significant other. If you’re single, you’ve never felt so alone. Very few people know the history of Valentines Day, or even who Saint Valentine was. All we know is what Hallmark tells us, and they’ve completely hijacked the holiday.
Living in [rural] Jamaica has offered a reprieve from the demands Hallmark. It’s also allowed me a chance to see what a holiday is like without it. I have no TV, so I see no commercials. My parish is a very rural one, so I see few billboards. I do listen to the radio, but I don’t recall hearing too many advertisements for Valentines Day. The point I’m trying to convey – perhaps very poorly – is that without being hijacked by Hallmark, the holidays mean something a little different.
Take Christmas for example. In America, people adorn their homes with lights and lawn ornaments. The malls hire a Santa Claus to make a little extra cash, and every single store is having some sort of Christmas sale. While the holiday is still celebrated in the company of loved ones, it’s become more about the giving of gifts than about the birth of Christ. But in [rural] Jamaica, there are no lights, no trees, and no stockings. Some stores decorate, and some stores have sales, but for the most part, there aren’t too many seasonal changes. And, while I’m sure it’s a little more about the weather than the decorations, many PCVs have lamented that it doesn’t feel like Christmas without these things.
Easter is another big one. In America, we dye eggs and hide them. We give out chocolate bunnies. But in Jamaica – a more religious country, void of colored eggs and bunnies – the holiday retains its original, holy meaning. In fact, between Good Friday and Easter Monday, the whole island pretty much shuts down and goes to church.
When it comes to the more secular holidays, like Valentines/Mother’s/Father’s Day, the Hallmark industry has some influence, but not much. Jamaicans do buy little trinkets to give out on Valentines Day, but no one is going to break the bank for it. Mother’s/Father’s Day is more about respect and recognition. And while you may argue that we respect and recognize our parents in America, I’ll argue that no one in Jamaica is running out to Kay or Jared’s to buy a diamond necklace.
All right, so maybe my position is more against consumerism than Hallmark, but Hallmark wouldn’t be able to survive outside of a consumerist economy. In a developing country like Jamaica, people don’t have the luxury of spending lavishly on these types of things. And without the demand for a “Hallmark Market,” the original intent of these holidays is not lost.
Personally, I enjoy it much more this way. It’s a relief not to be force-fed a notion driven by Big Corporation’s monetary gain. We live a world where money is meaningless (or at least it should be) and people are what matter. The spirit of a holiday, regardless of its origins, is to be with the ones you care about. When a company like Hallmark pushes a product and makes you feel guilty for not buying it, it casts a shadow over the entire holiday. A man may love his woman fiercely, and still feel as though he let her down on Valentines Day because he didn’t get her the good chocolate, or because he only brought her a dozen roses, instead of two. And why does the woman want these things to begin with? Because Hallmark told her she did. Giving to someone – whether it be a lover on Valentines Day, a parent on Mother’s/Father’s Day, or a child, adult, friend, colleague on Christmas – should come from the heart. We give (and celebrate) because we want to, not because a company told us to.
And on the topic of giving without spending for the sake of a holiday, let me take this moment to give a little something of my own. To my parents, with their respective holidays fast approaching, I give my gratitude. After all, I wouldn’t be who I am, or where I am without them.
Lastly, I challenge you – the reader – to think of a way in which you can honor and celebrate the upcoming Mother’s/Father’s Day without giving into Hallmark’s schemes. Did we all forget how easy it is to serve your mom breakfast in bed? Or do the dishes? Or, for once, complete your chores without her reminding you? For your dad, nothing could be simpler than putting a cold beer in one hand and the television remote in the other. Or perhaps a game of catch in the backyard? Take him fishing, if you’re able. No matter what you choose to do, just remember that is possible to keep within the tradition of a holiday without buying into the values of a multi-million dollar conglomerate. After all, your time, energy and love will always be worth more than the ever-fluctuating dollar.