Putting the Heart Back into Valentine’s Day
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.
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.
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.