Of Secret Friends, Lovers, and Loss
By Susana Raymundo
Every year we wait with anticipation and excitement for the arrival of February 14 so that we can express our love with those Valentine’s Day traditions. It begins in the first week of February- ok fine, maybe really in January after the Christmas decorations come down- when the streets fill with people selling flowers and balloons. And chocolates. And cards. Well, selling lots of things that might be vaguely associated with some show of love or affection… Stores, shopping centers, restaurants, cafes, and even movie theaters also get in on the act by adorning themselves with love themed attire. Really, you couldn’t escape the outpouring of love even if you wanted to.
But here in Guatemala, February 14 is not just for couples or lovers but also for friends, classmates, siblings, coworkers, neighbors, and pretty much anyone else with whom you might ever have had contact. It is even a time to express love for someone you don’t know personally but wish you did. Basically, it is like a massive version of elementary school when you were required to give everyone in your class a Valentine card, even if you didn’t really like them, so that no one would feel left out. But this isn’t just for young people as folks well into middle age and beyond get into the act too.
An important part of this grand celebration is the “secret friend”. Often a group of friends or classmates will get together and put everyone’s name into a hat. Then each person picks one name to be their secret friend for Valentine’s Day and buys that person a gift. Or if perhaps you actually have romantic aspirations for your friend then you might spend the week leading up to February 14 giving a flower, chocolate or other small gift each day. Then on the big day itself, the whole group gathers to reveal their secret friend, exchange gifts and celebrate together. Last year the XelaWho secret friend party led to the creation of 5 couples, unfortunately none of them lasted much beyond the Botran hangover…
But it isn’t all happiness on this day of love. For those that have recently lost a love or are still looking for love, this is a day to drown one’s sorrows. Nothing like a plastic bag of Venado rum to drown the pain. That’s where I find myself this year, so if you see me and you’re in the same non-romantic place, then sit down on the corner with me and have a sip to toast the end of another February 14.