By Hajar El Khaldi
By Hajar El Khaldi
Rabat – Red sweeps the stores, flower shops adorn their bouquets, and bold writings on windows’ shops declare “LOVE IS ON SALE” All the signs indicate that love, supposedly, is in the air.
Whether you believe in the celebration of this sentiment or not, you can’t help but notice its manifestations across the streets, on social media, and in your friends ludicrous red outfits, February 14 remains a day where warm sentiments meet controversy. With the rise of a celebration that is alien to Moroccan traditions, a key question begs for an answer: do Moroccans truly celebrate love, or is it a mere attempt at seeming “modern”?
A History Drenched in Blood
Although Valentine’s Day is known nowadays as an occasion where love is celebrated, mainly, through the exchange of gifts between lovers, its history is quite morbid.
Historians agree that Valentine’s Day has its roots in ancient Rome where the Roman feast of Lupercalia, which dates back to 300 BC, took place every year between February 13 and February 15. How did the romans celebrate, you ask? One of the gruesome rituals involved sacrificing a dog or a goat and using the skin to whip women, as it was believed that this would increase their fertility. Quite romantic, huh?
This pagan tradition was expelled in the 5th century, and replaced with the celebration of a martyr called Valentine who was executed by the roman Emperor Claudius II, also known as Claudius the Cruel.
While the reason behind beheading can’t be confirmed and several legends have been attributed to this celebration, people like to cling to the version where a Saint Valentine went against the emperor’s ban on marriage for men in the army, and continued to marry young couples; which eventually cost him his head.
Spreading the Love
In the 15th century a 21-year-old Duke, allegedly, sent the first Valentine’s Day card ever to his, underage 16 years old, bride from prison under the title “Farewell to Love”.
A couple of centuries later, the holiday turned into a consumer-oriented celebration that intended to showcase one’s social class. In fact, while common folk confessed their love through card exchange, aristocrats engaged in more refined and expensive activities.
With the rise of industrialization and the developments in printing and mass production, the celebration spread across Europe, then the United States, and eventually to the Arab World.
“Love is Dead, and Consumerism Killed it”
In order to get Moroccan’s opinions on this celebration, I visited the flower market in Rabat where vendors were more than willing to give their take on the matter.
At the market, flowers embellished the street as the bouquets left their usual stand inside the shops and spread across the sidewalk. The clients’ turnout might lead you to think that the vendors would be avid fans of this celebration; however, their opinions had another story to tell.
“We Moroccans express love throughout the year; we don’t need a specific day to display our love, nor do we need this kind of gifts to show it,” declared Fouad, a florist in his early 40s. “By love I don’t only refer to romantic love; the love we have for our families, neighbors, and for each other is far more important,” he explained.
A younger florist, Abdeslam, joined our conversation to express similar cynicism toward the occasion, and stated that Valentine’s day has little to do with real love and more to do with social pressure and couples’ desire to show those around them that they, too, are loved. “It’s not about how you feel for me. What can you give me? That’s Valentine’s Day in a nutshell.
“Most of our clients on this day are young people, although the price multiplies four times this time of the year, because, in all honesty, older people knew how to love. Our parents held on to our traditions and religion and knew that you cannot limit love to a day or put a price on it,” said Fouad. “Now love related merchandise is everywhere, yet actual love is hard to come by.”
An Act of Rebellion
While some see it as commercial festivity that pushes people to conform to western ideals, others view it as an opportunity to share love in a world saturated with hatred, as well as an opportunity to fight against religious extremists’ voices that do not cease to intervene in individuals lives.
As a matter of fact, in communal societies, where relationships are regulated through traditional social rules, life revolves around the group and any attempt at uniqueness is often ostracized.
While Moroccans have no problem expressing warm sentiments toward their friends and relatives in the form of hospitality and empathy, interpersonal expressions of love between individuals often feel awkward and out of place.
This shows, for instance, in the way Moroccans linguistically express their love. In fact, they often use French or English and find sentimental expressions in the Moroccan dialect to be cringe worthy.
Furthermore, love is often ridiculed and seen as sign of weakness especially when it comes from men, on the other hand, women are raised to abide by traditional gender roles that prevent them from expressing their emotions first. In addition to a law that criminalizes relationships between consenting adults, store bought love seem to be Moroccan’s best shot at love for the moment.