It was a cold season and people were wearing jackets to keep warm. That evening turned out to be unusually cold like never before. Asmara’s air was filled with fog and dew. There were countless people in the streets at the city centre walking in groups and there were also others sitting on the Cathedral’s stairs watching around while chatting.
All cafeterias and restaurants were filled up with ladies in scarlet dresses for the Valentine’s Day. Though it was extremely cold they wore miniskirts and were kept warm with the hugs of their boyfriends. Many lovers visit Asmara Sweet Cafe, a gorgeous place with sweet cakes and creams.
The waitresses were busy going back and forth to serve the people in the Cafe. There was an old man who sat in the Cafe to have coffee to keep his body warm from the freezing weather. He was shaking. Then he was more than astonished to see the girls around with the boys, grinning and laughing aloud. ‘Today’s girls are so different,’ he whispered. He then decided to talk to one of the couples and approached Feven and Simon. When they saw him coming towards them, they wondered why he was coming.
Without asking for permission he just sat at their table. They stared at him but he didn’t care.
‘My children, why are you all in reds and miniskirts while it is freezing to death?’ the man asked disgusted by the dress.
Feven replied, ‘Don’t you know, sir? Today is the greatest day of the year; it’s a holiday. It is Valentine’s Day, and this guy is my “valentine” and we are celebrating our love. Yes, it is freezing but we are warmed by our love that burns like fire. Just like parents buy clothes for their children on holidays, my boyfriend bought me this fabulous dress for this day.’
The old man was stunned. He knew there are seven religious and four public holidays in Erirtrea — Easter, Geez New Year, Ldet, Eid Aladha, Eid Alfetr, New Year, Meskel, Independence Day, Martyrs Day, May Day and September 1st. He couldn’t tell whether Valentine’s Day is a religious holiday or a public holiday? He clearly remembered that day when he kissed the foreheads of his grandchildren before they went to school. Had it been a holiday, he would have stayed at home and his grandchildren would not have gone to school, he thought.
He was confused. Simon could read the man’s mind and began to elaborate what his girlfriend said. ‘Valentine’s Day is a day that is dedicated to people who are in courtship or love. It originated in Europe but it’s celebrated all over the world. February 14 is a worldwide memorable day. If you want, you can bring your wife along and join us.’
The old man listened quietly and started to talk mildly. ‘I think our culture, traditions and customs are going to be buried, and the future is going to be bright and golden only if we preserve our culture’.
‘It isn’t the furniture that makes the big difference. It is the building. Why don’t you try to build first before you buy furniture and begin to decorate it?’’ the man continued to talk seriously. He looked disappointed to see the beautiful and adorable Eritrean girls in extremely short dresses designed by outsiders instead of wearing ‘Zuria or Tlfi’ made locally by Eritreans. ‘I think the Eritrean girls in traditional dresses are vacationing in Bermuda,’ He never seemed to stop. Feven and Simon were listening as if they were attending an evening school. After the long conversation the man stepped off the café and left.
Valentine’s Day is the day when Saint Valentine, a priest in Rome, was assassinated by Claudius II, the ruler who had unlimited power in the third century BCE. It is believed that STt Valentine openly opposed the orders of Claudius II to stop marriage ceremonies. The rule banning marriage was passed because Claudius II believed that single men were better soldiers. The holy St.Valentine did not fear anyone except God and, hence, continued to perform marriage ceremonies for many couples. The Roman king, however, imprisoned the saint. But being a good example of love, Saint Valentine transformed the people in the jail and he, himself, fell in love with the jailor’s daughter. It is believed that when Claudius II found out about this, he got the Saint assassinated in CE 269. However, the deeply-in-love St. Valentine sent his lover a final note that was signed ‘from your valentine’. Since then people who are in love started to send a love note signed ‘from your valentine’ to someone special in their lives. Since then the Americans, the British, Asians, Africans and Europeans began to celebrate Valentine’s Day by exchanging love notes and small gifts as an expression of love every year on the fourteenth of February.
Valentine’s Day is also celebrated in Eritrea, especially in Asmara. When the day approaches so many restaurants and recreation centres make advertisements to host people who are in love. Many youngsters dress up on the day and decorate their cars and rooms.
The elders say that globalization is diluting the Eritrean culture, and this creates a gap in the thinking and lifestyles of the young and the old. Parents tend to condemn Valentine’s Day as insane but the young generation call it ‘an everlasting stream of love.’