I dreaded Valentine's Day when I was young. As an adult, I decided to celebrate in a different way.

Every time I think about Valentine’s Day, I remember the inevitable Charlie Brown cartoon with Charlie dreaming of all the Valentine’s cards he would get and then finding his mail box empty. I always sympathized.

When I was in elementary school, we’d put our cards into a decorated box during the days before Valentine’s Day, and then the box was opened and the cards distributed to each person in the class. It was always agony for me. I was neither popular nor an outcast, but I was always afraid I wouldn’t get any cards, or I’d get a card from someone I hadn’t given one to, or vice versa.

I wanted to just stay home from school, but of course that wasn’t an option. And I couldn’t tell anyone how I felt because they’d likely think I was being silly. I mean, it was just paper cards!

Later, I homeschooled my kids. No, not because of Valentine’s Day, but when February came around, I was glad they/we didn’t have to deal with the whole cards thing. And my husband and I chose to downplay the day within our family. (Okay, we would usually buy some marshmallow chocolate hearts when they went on sale.)

But try as you might, you can’t ignore it.

Starting right after Christmas, every time you go into a store you’re bombarded by all the things you can buy for Valentine’s Day.

Photo by sarsmis from Deposit Photo.

It’s become like a competition to see who loves their partner or potential partner the most.

And, of course, you don’t really love your kids or grandkids if you don’t buy them a stuffed animal they don’t need and candy they also don’t need.

Since I grew unto adulthood, I’ve never felt obligated to buy things to show my love — especially things no one really needs. I mean, who decided that buying chocolates, stuffed animals, bouquets of flowers, jewellry and commercially produced cards are necessary to prove you love somebody?

Why not red apples in a heart-shaped box? Handwritten notes in a lunch box? A walk in the park? A hug? Clean dishes? A partner or parent who is always there for you?

I decided to check out the origins of Valentine’s Day.

It turns out there are a number of different theories, ranging from February 14th being the day birds chose their mates, to old Roman festivals for chasing away wolves (?), to a priest who married young couples in spite of the emperor’s having forbidden marriage. (Rome was at war and the emperor thought bachelors fought better than married men.)

The story I like best is the one about an early Roman Christian named Valentine who was imprisoned because of his faith. Among his friends were many children who tossed notes of concern and love through the bars of his cell. Unfortunately, he was executed on February 14th. Later, this day was named St. Valentine’s Day after the martyr.

Cool. The thought of having a day to remind us to cheer up other people intrigued me.

Maybe Valentine’s day could be changed to a day when we do something nice for someone who needs cheering up?

I was tempted to send a card to Charlie Brown, but no matter how much I’ve loved him through the years, he’s only a cartoon character.

I thought about who else I could send a Valentine to, and came up with a list.

  • All the people who clean washrooms in public places. What would we do without you?
  • All those who put their garbage into the right containers, put their shopping carts back where they belong, and in general try to care for the environment. You make a big difference.
  • All those who cook balanced meals for other people who turn up their noses or grumble (like children and hospital patients). Whether we like it or not, the right food is very important to our health.
  • All those who wait on other people in some way — cashiers, sales clerks, waitresses and waiters…. We may take you for granted, but we need you just the same.
  • All those who work as doctors, nurses, therapists, aides, and orderlies, and are finding their jobs stressful from all the changes. Your patients may range from grumpy to clinging, but each one of them desperately needs to see your smiling face.
  • All those who care for a loved one with Alzheimer’s or cerebral palsy or another life-impacting disease. Don’t ever think that what you are doing isn’t important.
  • All those who have a child struggling with social, emotional, or intellectual problems. Don’t give up. Your encouragement and acceptance are vital.
  • All those who are trying to be there for a friend or loved one with an emotional problem. You’re not alone even though it might feel that way.
  • All those who are wondering what to do with the rest of their lives. Yeah, it can be hard to know. Keep trying different things until you find something you love.
  • All those who are struggling financially or with their health. I know it’s hard.
  • All those who have regrets. Fix what you can and have compassion on yourself when you can’t make amends.
  • All those who are afraid. Being afraid can save you.
  • All those who feel alone. You’re part of a vast crowd of people.
  • Anyone reading this who needs a little bit of cheer.

Consider this my Valentine for you.

Heart by sun-tiger from Deposit Photo. Meme by N. J. Lindquist.

Now I’m sure I’ve left someone out.

So…maybe each one of us, either today or in the days to come, could do one practical thing for someone we know who might need a little cheering up.

If we each did something, maybe no one would be left out. Well, except maybe Charlie Brown.

Of course, they do say giving is more fun than receiving…. I wonder if Charlie ever discovered that?

Original version published in my “That’s Life” column in the Markham Economist-Sun, Feb. 14, 1998.

February 4, 2020

About the author 

N. J. Lindquist

N. J. Lindquist is the award-winning author of books, articles, short stories, and blog posts. She also edits and publishes the "Hot Apple Cider" anthologies. A former high school teacher, N. J. co-founded The Word Guild and teaches workshops for writers as well as speaking on various topics including creativity and leadership.

  • This year (2017) I will write approximately 50 Valentines and include them in parcels of cookies which I will share during the Monday’s with Michelle on Feb 13th because we are downtown at that time feeding the homeless. I thought it was especially important to let them know that they are loved and prayed for throughout this difficult season of their lives.

  • I love this! Especially acknowledging people in the retail industry who get more grief and abuse than we realize. I don’t see Valentines Day as a day of romance, but as one of appreciation and caring.

    • Lately, I’ve heard an ad from a florist several times, and it drives me crazy. Basically, it says, “Buy her the besxt flowers you can and send them to her office so she can flaunt them in front of her co-workers.” Unfortunately, for many people it does become that sort of thing.

  • Hi N.J.

    I would add this one for acts of kindness. Those who take time to get your car out of the snow and ask nothing in return. In the small community of Ramore and surrounding areas of northern Ontario, stuck cars are a common occurrence. About a week ago our next door neighbours on a very cold day, took time to get our car unstuck from our driveway. They gave of their time and energy to help us out. We nominate them for a Valentine award.

    Yes, Valentine’s Day shouldn’t be about giving expensive gifts, Guys, how about on Valentine’s Day cooking a supper of caring for your wife? You save on the cost of an expensive supper out. Your wife feels more loved that you took time to cook a special supper.

    Perhaps, like Christmas, every day should be Valentine’s Day, giving the gift of our heart to others.

  • Great reminder to think outside the box. Yesterday, I had a thought to.buy a few TIm Horton gift çards and give it to a few Target store employees who have to go through the liquidation process, knowing their jobs are coming to an end.
    On a side note, my husband always gave a single rose to me and to each of my four daughters on Valentine Day. To this day, a single.rose has great significance to each of us.

    • Love your idea of giving gift cards to Target employees who have lost their jobs!

      Lovely tradition with the roses. So wish he was still here to enjoy his growing family. But I’m sure he’s watching closely.

      N. J.

  • Peter, I sometimes wonder if my grandkids think we don’t like them – we’ve never given them anything for Valentine’s Day. Hopefully they just think we’re too old to get into it.

    No, we don’t give them Easter eggs either. Sigh.

    What we did for our kids was buy candy after the holiday when it was on sale. :)

  • Heh! Heh! NJ.

    My Beloved and I, in regard to Valentine’s Day, are much like you and your hubby; we can do without it, ourselves.

    That said, your post and list are wonderful! Great ideas for extending one’s reach and bringing meaning and encouragement to those who in some way really need it. Thank you.

    I fess up however, that my wife does in our behalf for the grandkids what we don’t do for ourselves, by getting Valentine’s goodies for them. She also buys chocolates (or whatever) for the parents and helps our youngest granddaughter make giant cards to go with them.

    (Hmm I do have an inner scruple on that — but it’s a minor one! :) )

  • This is so beautiful, Janet, a lovely way of saying Happy Valentine’s Day to the many people in our world who may get taken for granted. You are right. Gratitude says a lot more than mere commercialism ever can. Thank you for a unique and uplifting Valentine!!

  • Loved the blog. So many people we take for granted and you managed to list many of them. Who needs chocolates during Lent anyway!

  • Just beautiful. We don’t “celebrate” Valentine’s Day as it has become so commercialized. But I like your take on it. Encourage each other. Love each other.
    Here is to a great Valentine’s Day to you.

  • I love this! What a great way to pull up out of the sloppish romantic mess that Valentine’s has become and now to turn and make something beautiful out of the holiday! I hope we each do at least one random note of encouragement, one word, one act – it will revitalize our hearts and theirs! Thanks for this excellent post!

  • Thanks for the kind words everyone! I’ve been busy here trying to figure out how to change our header to put our new logo up – finally got it – ta da! (Usually easy but not today some reason.)

    Now I need to figure out how to make the comments words more visible. But you all found them!

    I have never ever ever ever liked Valentine’s Day or any other day where “people” (mostly trying to make money) tell me I have to do something. I think it actually does more harm than good by making more people feel depressed or guilty than loved or appreciated. Obligation kills any joy for me.

    As for romance, I’m sorry, Heather, but I disagree; if people really need an outside reminder to buy a box of candy or roses then they have a problem. I’ve been married over 40 years and have never been given candy or flowers on Valentine’s Day from my husband and I really don’t care. It’s what happens day after day that matters.

    Wendy, true confession. I actually wrote this in 1998 for my column in the Markham Economist and Sun. But I had never posted it and last night I remembered it and thought this was the perfect time. :)

  • Great post, N. J. Good way to kick things off on your new blog.

    We were both thinking — quite independently — about bringing new meaning to Valentine’s Day.
    Quite funny, because neither knew what the other one was working on.
    Love the points you make.

  • I agree. Valentine’s Day should be for everyone to know they’re loved–not just for romance. But it still is nice to have a reminder every year to make romance a priority.

  • Very well stated. I wonder how many of us ever actually looked forward to Valentine’s Day in school? Aside from the obligatory class party, that is.

    Nice list. I’m sure most of us can find a spot in the list you’ve created.

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