Much of America spent yesterday in what's become the equivalent of a holiday tradition—gathering to watch the Super Bowl. I haven't seen data to back this up, but I bet as many Americans “observe” Super Bowl Sunday as many major holidays.
And there is nothing wrong with that.
Personally, I haven't really cared about a football game since Jim McMahon led the Chicago Bears to victory in 1986, but I think it's a nice thing that so many people gather with friends and family on Super Bowl Sunday. Yes, it's rather commercial (Super Bowl commercials, in fact, being a big part of the festivities) and there's a good amount of drinking and gambling that goes with the day. But that's the case with many holidays, and overall Super Bowl Sunday seems like a fine American institution.
With this calendar milestone passed, the next pseudo-holiday looms in a little more than a week: Valentine's Day.
According to a recent report, the average American will spend $126 related to celebrating the holiday. That's a fairly jaw-dropping sum, given that we know so many American families are struggling to make ends meet in this economy. Some analysts suggest that this holiday spending is a positive sign that the economy is improving—Americans are willing to blow a little cash on frivolous things because they are more optimistic about their economic prospects. Maybe so.
Valentine's Day is more than an economic event, of course. Just as Super Bowl Sunday has become an occassion for people to get together with friends and family, Valentine's Day serves a purpose in encouraging people to think about the loves in their lives. As a mother of small children, I find something particularly sweet about Valentine's Day. It's no longer an occasion to collect the obligatory flowers or other token from my significant other, but a time to help kids ernestly scrawl the name of relatives and friends on cut-out red hearts.
Yet Valentine's Day also always brings ruminations about the state of love and relationships in the modern age. Do too many people mistake the trappings of romance—the flowers, dinners out, and mushy cards—with the more valuable, though less ornamented, enduring love that provides a foundation for lasting relationships? Almost certainly so, as rising divorce rates and reduced rates of family formation suggest.
Charles Murray's new book brings such trends into focus, reminding us that such problems are particularly pronounced among lower-income segments of society, and with devastating effects. That leads to all sorts of important questions about what policies are exacerbating the problem, and what we can do to create a cultural environment more conducive to sustained relationship.
Such important topics demand serious attention, but that doesn't mean there's any harm in exchanging boxes of chocolates in the meantime so on to Valentine's Day we go.