I have always preferred spending time with a loved one over spending money. Years later, you probably won’t remember the $5 card or the expensive bouquet of flowers, but you will remember holding hands, the kiss that melted your heart, and the single rose pressed in a book. The cards I’ve kept are all homemade. My worst memories of Valentines past are the ones that were phoned in - gifts given in convenience store bags after a quick run to the store or gifts grudgingly given to keep up with other couples in our circle of friends.
Valentine’s Day can strike fear into the hearts and wallets of even the bravest person. Over the top gifts and celebrations have become parts of our observance of this “holiday not holiday.” How did it start and how did it escalate into the equivalent of an extra monthly mortgage payment for some?
Many people claim Valentine’s Day is a phony holiday created by merchants to force us to spend money or face the wrath of a disappointed partner. It would be more accurate to call it a reimagined holiday.
Valentine’s Day is also known as St. Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine’s Day. Valentinus was the name for an early saint or saints honored by a Western Christian feast day on February 14. Martyrdom stories were associated with the various Valentines. According to legend, St. Valentine of Rome was imprisoned and executed for performing wedding ceremonies for soldiers who were forbidden to wed and for ministering to Christians who were still being persecuted under Roman law.
Geoffrey Chaucer is believed to be the first person to equate the Feast of Saint Valentine’s day with romantic love in the 14th century. It wasn’t until the 18th century that this day became an occasion for lovers to send flowers, candy and greeting cards called valentines to express their affection.
Valentine’s Day was one of my favorite days in elementary school. We made valentine boxes from shoeboxes by covering them with pink, red and white construction paper, paper doilies and if we were lucky a little glitter. We made valentines or purchased cartoon paper ones for every person in our class. Some valentines came with candy attached and many XXXOOO’s. It was a day for everyone to feel special. Every child received the same number of valentines including a special valentine from the teacher.
In middle school and high school, valentines were reserved for that special someone. Clubs sold red and white carnations or red roses and you prayed someone would send you one. A lucky few received flowers from several suitors, cards, and treats including heart shaped boxes of chocolates. The rest of us relied on the Valentine’s Day bake sale where we could eat our feelings courtesy of heart shaped cookies with sprinkles or cupcakes with pink icing. We attended the Valentine’s Day dance wearing our obligatory red and white courage or boutonnière, and consumed pink punch, potato chips, more heart shaped cookies and cupcakes as the Bee Gees song in the background asked, “How Deep is Your Love?” (Yes, I’m that old).
In college, money was tight. Valentine’s Day meant pretending the cafeteria’s version of a romantic dinner was edible or going to Taco Bell before the dance in the Student Union. If you were lucky, your special someone splurged at the Bake sale table and got you a pink cupcake and a white carnation on a red construction paper heart.
Of course, there was always the girl in your dorm with the boyfriend at another school who sent her roses and candy to atone for his absence on this special day. FYI, we hated that girl.
Fast forward to when my sons went to school. I loved sitting at the kitchen table with them while they decided which friends got Donatello, Michelangelo, Leonardo, or Raphael valentines. Call me a pack rat or a sentimental fool, but I still have some of the valentines they made for me. By middle school they were busy with sports or video games and only cared if mom remembered to get them a Valentine’s Day treat.
For a few of my friends Valentine’s Day means diamonds, new golf clubs, dinner reservations at an exclusive restaurant and a hotel room downtown. That sounds nice, but if you want to be my valentine, my needs are much simpler… a romantic card, a few conversation candy hearts, a single flower, an hour or two of your undivided attention and that kiss I’ll never forget and maybe a little dark chocolate in one of those heart shaped boxes.