Thoughts on Valentine’s Day

Lea Wait, here, trying to think of something to write about today.

Bartlett’s Quotations lists no memorable words under the heading “Valentine’s Day.” I know, because I just checked. And, after all, this is a day to post something sentimental and witty and bright. The day for lovers.

I know history. Although there were several St. Valentines, the one usually thought of at this time of year was the Christian imprisoned for performing wedding ceremonies for soldiers in the Roman army who were forbidden to marry. During the Middle Ages Valentine’s Day became associated with romantic, courtly, love, and by the 15th century people were sending poetry, flowers, and sweets to “their Valentines.” (And you thought it was just a Hallmark conspiracy!) 

I’m currently reading a biography of Emily Dickinson (My Wars Are Laid Away in Books, by Alfred Habegger), and, sure enough, even young Emily wrote Valentine poems and sent them to men in Amherst. (There’s no record of how many, if any, valentines she received in return.)

My memories of Valentine’s Days past include years of cutting out uneven red paper hearts and messily pasting them on white doilies for loved family members, most likely as classroom or Brownie projects. In elementary school there was always a large decorated classroom box in which classmates were to deposit their valentines for other students. On Valentines Day, in years before candy was considered inappropriate, we would share a few candy hearts and maybe red-frosted cupcakes, and the cards would be distributed with great fanfare. Some children gave cards (often anonymously) to everyone in the class, but some boys would only give cards to boys (girls? yuck!) and some girls gave only to girls. The most popular kids, of course, got the most cards. And .. inevitably .. some got very few. Bottom line: it was a painful process.

And it set the stage for the rest of life’s Valentine’s Days, in which those lucky enough to be part of a committed couple could happily celebrate or not, as they chose (and flaunt it, as some inevitably did) while those in early stages of relationships would nervously wonder what to do … what would be too much? too little? And those without a “significant other” would be forced to endure weeks of advertising about love and flowers and chocolate and feel unclaimed and unwanted. Not even to mention those who were part of a couple and somehow, despite the advertising deluge, … oh, the horror of it! the guilt! forgot Valentine’s Day!

As an unmarried woman for most of my life, I knew other single women who sent themselves flowers (to their offices) on Valentine’s Day. And more who bought their favorite chocolates and stayed home and watched romantic movies alone, or with other singles, vowing this would definitely be the last year they would do such a thing. I knew one man who always made sure to break up with his girl-of-the-season before Valentine’s Day, to avoid “all that romantic crap.”

The United States Greeting Card Association says about 190 million individual valentines are sent every year. About half are sent to children. If you add the valentines made in school and the boxed varieties for those school exchanges, the number exchanged by students goes up to 1 billion. Teachers, not surprisingly, get the most valentines. 15 million e-Valentines were sent in 2010.

And, of course, you can buy Valentines for your godmother or grandfather or your sister or brother-in-law … the greeting card industry has made sure you have no excuse for not finding a card for everyone in your life. 

(Not to speak of the flowers and candy and champagne and jewelry and restaurant industries, who’d like to help you out, too.)

For some reason, Christmas doesn’t bother me as much. It’s, yes, a Christian holiday, but the commercial part is centered around children and family. There are people without children and without families, certainly. But, overall, to me Christmas is more inclusive.

But Valentine’s Day commercializes romantic love. And romantic love is something very personal. It is magical; it is ephemeral; it is only part of the larger word “love.” But those millions and billions of Valentines are trying to encompass all of love. (I’m surprised there aren’t Valentines for dogs and cats and horses — or maybe I just haven’t seen those.) That extremely broad interpretation of the word “love” is the commercial part of the holiday.

For everyone reading this who plans to have a quiet, romantic, dinner tonight with their partner, and for whom celebrating this day means roses and jewelry and chocolate and dancing and a recommitment to their love … that’s wonderful. You don’t need it to be February 14 to make that happen, but if this date reminds you, or makes it more special in some way — have a wonderful day. I’m happy for you. Really I am.

For everyone else, happy or sad, in a relationship or not … my advice? Don’t take February 14 too seriously. But do take advantage of this day in mid-February to remind yourself that spring will come soon. Buy yourself some spring flowers. Maybe even buy yourself a special dessert, or make something special for dinner you haven’t had recently. Why? Because you deserve it. And you don’t need permission or a special day to do those things. February 14 is as good a day as any.

What are my husband and I going to do today? Well, we’re going to have our cellar insulated, so we’ve been instructed that we have to be out of the house for most of the day. Chances are good we’ll visit a museum, and probably have lunch somewhere. I’m looking forward to spending the day together outside the house; although we spend most days together inside the house, those are working days. Today, by the chance of the insulation folks’ schedule, we’ll be having a play day. Sounds perfect to me.  

Happy Valentine’s Day! May your day be perfect in its own way, too!

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5 Responses to Thoughts on Valentine’s Day

  1. John Clark says:

    Ah, the subtle tyranny of holidays. Were I benevolent dictator of the universe, everyone would have a checklist where they could exempt themselves from up to three holidays and woe to any who violate that sacrosanct list.

  2. Deanna says:

    Great idea John Clark!!!!!
    P.S. My favorite is Thanksgiving – no great expectations – just food and family of whatever kinds.

  3. Kaitlyn commenting here under my other names (Kate Emerson and Kathy Lynn Emerson) to say that at the court of Henry VIII (or so they think, since historians all
    cite the same single incident), valentines were selected by lot. Each gentleman gave a gift to the lady who drew his name. I wonder if this is where the “secret Santa” idea originated.

  4. MCWriTers says:

    Oh, Lea, I am feeling terribly remiss because I have not sent Valentines to my granddogs–Frances, Otis, Daisy, and Harvey. Will they still love me tomorrow?

    I belong to the group who harbor violent thoughts after all the advertising. If NPR had said one more word about the dozen long-stemmed red roses from Winston Flowers, I was going to organize a mob and storm the studio. And I know I am not alone.

    But tonight, romantic that I am, I will make some of my husband’s favorite foods. There will be crab. There will be…silly but fun…potato pancakes. I hear there will be wine. He has been given appropriate gifts–expensive Scotch, and a video of Animal House. And then we will probably go back to our respective desks, and back to work.

    Enjoy your day out of the house!

  5. Barbara Ross says:

    John–great idea. I’m already on record here as hating Halloween. I’d also like to take a pass on my birthday. It’s not about getting older, it’s just that it’s right after New Year’s and we’re already up to here on family gatherings and food and drink by that point. I’ll have to think about the third one.

    For all the crazy years of kids and jobs, my husband and I went out to dinner on the weekend after Valentines Day, rather than “be out with with amateurs” as my husband put it. But tonight we’ll be dining in a lovely restaurant with a view of Boston Harbor, so a break with our tradition.

    And yes, Kate, there was one of those long boxes from Winston’s on my front porch yesterday.

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