By Deborah Van Hoewyk
Don’t most of us have memories of our grade-school Valentine’s Days? How about going out to get the booklet with pop-out cards (making sure it had enough for everyone in the class)? Then poring over them to separate the funny ones from the friendly ones, not to mention the lovey-dovey ones, picking just the right one to match each person on the list Miss Beauchaine gave out (lest you forget anyone).
It turns out that was probably good preparation for Valentine’s Day in Mexico. While roses and chocolate and a romantic dinner for two on the beach are definitely highlights of a Huatulco Valentine’s Day, the occasion is actually called the Día del Amor y la Amistad—the Day of Love AND Friendship. Mexicans celebrate their friendships as much as their romantic relationships on February 14.
The origins of Valentine’s Day as a celebration of love and friendship are shrouded in philology, with this or that researcher tracing it from one or another St. Valentine (there are at least two Romans in the running) down to Chaucer and the medieval traditions of courtly love. Anthropologists and religious researchers seek its origin in the Christian conversion of Roman pagan rituals.
The Mexican antecedents of Valentine’s Day are no clearer, but the Aztecs made a couple of contributions associated with the celebration. The 16th century emperor Moctezuma II supposedly believed that chocolate contributed to his virility—two, some say many more, goblets of chocolal seemed to help him service his harem. (He is also supposed to have shared this secret with Hernan Cortes, but it certainly didn’t divert the conquistador from his non-romantic intentions.) The other Aztec notion associated with Valentine’s Day speaks to the emphasis on amistad: there remains a fragment of an Aztec poem that declares “La amistad es lluvia de flores preciosas”—“Friendship is a shower of precious flowers.”
Regardless of where you celebrate it, modern Valentine’s Day with its heart-covered missives is, like Mother’s Day, a commercial creation. Mt. Holyoke graduate Esther Howland received an English Valentine card in 1847; taken with the idea, she started making Valentine cards herself, importing the necessary lacy doilies and fancy papers from England. With her first ad in The Daily Spy Worcester, Massachusetts, in 1850, the Valentine’s Day of North America was born.
Perhaps all this slid down over the border by osmosis, but it’s a day that definitely appeals to Mexicans. After all, the record for the world’s largest group kiss was set on Valentine’s Day 2010, when 39,897 people in Mexico City really got together! They beat the British record by more than 7,000 kissers. Serenaded by Susana Zavaleta with “Besame Mucho,” the group was organized by tourism officials to protest soaring drug violence and diss the mayor of Guanajuato, who was supposed to have banned kissing in his zócalo (which he vehemently denied).
The Mexican love-and-friendship blog TeKiero (www.tekiero.tk) did a poll right before Valentine’s Day last year, and found that for your true amor, as opposed to your amigos, the day spa plus romantic dinner was the hands-down winner, although technology gifts for that special someone are on the rise. In general people planned to spend more on Valentine’s Day 2012 than they did in 2011. For amistad, the favorites were flowers and stuffed animals rather than fancy cards, a trend backed up by a longitudinal (18 years) nationwide poll by the DF firm Consulta Mitofsky: flowers, clothes, chocolates, perfume, and stuffed animals were the most common gifts.
So, what can you expect to see or do in Huatulco on Valentine’s Day? It won’t be that different from a Valentine’s Day north of the border—but there will be a lot more of it! Balloons, balloons, and more balloons; every possible kind of giftable item that can be made in red or pink; scads of flowers, especially roses wired into heart shapes; and those cuddly stuffed animals, also in red or pink.
But if you want to partake of that spa experience or a romantic dinner for two, you’ll no doubt need reservations. There are spas at Secrets and Dreams (check with the concierge desks to find out just how to reserve if you’re not staying at the hotel), as well as the Xquenda Spa in Chahue. Pre-dinner drinks with views are outstanding at the Sky Bar at Secrets and Las Cúpulas at Quinta Real. For your Valentine’s meal, Dreams should be repeating its exclusive romantic dinner for two on the beach this year, and the list of lovely restaurants is long: in no particular order, you might try Café Viena, Onix, Café Juanita or Kristal Rose. ¡Que todos tengan una noche muy especial!