Valentine’s Day gets a bad rap. I can’t even count the amount of comments I’ve heard or seen against Valentine’s Day this year: it’s just a Hallmark holiday…we don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day…it’s just another day…the list goes on. Though I do recognize that there are some very valid reasons why Valentine’s Day can be a difficult day for some and a frustrating day for others (pressure, meaninglessness in the gift-giving, etc.), I can’t help but defend the day just a bit. Maybe share another perspective. Somebody needs to speak out on its behalf. A bit of a “shout out” for Valentine’s Day, if you will.
My heart for Valentine’s Day (pun intended), probably began because I am the daughter of “The Valentine Lady.” Many of you who know my mom may not realize that has been a nickname of hers (and some of you may be very well aware!). Let me explain. First of all, born on the 16th of February (Happy Birthday, Mom!), she was known to get her birthday confused with Valentine’s Day. Really (just ask her when her birthday is, and you’ll get a fifty percent chance of her saying February 14th). As you’ll soon read below, she really made the most of our Valentine’s Day celebrations. She now admits that, though disguised as a Valentine’s Day Party for our family, secretly it was a birthday party for herself (any mother can perfectly understand the temptation to do such a thing!). So, with Valentine’s Day in her blood, it’s no wonder that she also became quite a Valentine card maker. No hallmark cards for her. It was all about lace and doilies. Victorian-style cards at their best. She even sold her cards in a few gift shops for several years. During those years, she became consumed with keeping up with orders, which translated to doilies, hearts, and Victorian die-cuts galore at our house. To top it off, she had a pink sweatshirt with a white heart-shaped doilie plastered across the front (no comment…in her defense, she has since disposed of that sweatshirt). Thus, for all these reasons combined, she was lovingly dubbed (by her children), “The Valentine Lady.”
An interesting fact that I’ve discovered in recent years is that there really was a St. Valentine’s. Apparently, on February 14, A.D. 269, a young priest named Valentine was beheaded because he refused to denounce his faith in Christ. I love that this holiday, which has obviously been impacted by consumerism and a huge emphasis on romantic love, is at least partially based upon the true story of someone who displayed extraordinary love for Christ. And I love what Martha Zimmerman wrote in her book, Celebrating the Christian Year in reference to this origin, “What a wonderful opportunity to lead your children into a better understanding of God’s love, which enables us to love one another.”
My real love for Valentine’s Day, and all that it can be, is best portrayed in something I wrote several years ago (when our oldest was just three years old). It’s my reflection on Valentine’s Day, growing up in my home:
Most people, when they think of Valentine’s Day, think of boyfriends, girlfriends, hearts, flowers, chocolates, love, etc. I’ll admit that I think of those things, too. But I think of much, much more.
Valentine’s Day in my house was nothing next to a phenomenon (okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration). If you were to peer inside, you’d see Valentine making materials galore: doilies, heart stickers, red and pink construction paper, ribbons, and lace. You’d also see the dining room table set in fairy tale fashion: a confectionary pink tablecloth with a delicate lace overlay, pink candles, fine china, sterling silver, and a present at every place. In the middle of it all was a luscious pink heart-shaped cake, strewn with flowers in all shades of pink. Mother would be seen swishing about the kitchen, putting every last detail in place. The stage was undoubtedly set for something special.
But where were the children…and the husband? We were all out delivering our homemade Valentine’s. At that very moment, we might have been sitting in the living room of Miss Butler, sipping lemonade and eating homemade cookies. Or, we just as easily could have been with Mrs. Stokes, carefully choosing which candy bars we wanted from her candy bowl in her kitchen. Or maybe we were sitting on our neighbor’s (I don’t even remember her name!) front porch, staring at her old-fashioned “moon shoes” (as she called them) as we listened, once again, to some of her childhood stories. In all, there were about eight different homes we could be in, visiting and delivering Valentines.
Why were we there? And how did we choose them? All of the recipients of our Valentines were older, single women. This day of love, could potentially have been one of the loneliest days for these women, but because of the thoughtfulness of my mother, it wasn’t. It was clear that each of these women not only expected this annual visit, but looked forward to it. They were prepared for us. And in retrospect, I’m sure that even the anticipation of it helped fill a void. And quite possibly those Valentine’s hung on their refrigerator or walls until the next year’s took its place.
The overall Valentine plan of my mom’s was brilliant. First, the making of the Valentine’s served to keep us children both busy for a morning, and an integral part of the gift-giving. Secondly, it was special for Dad to deliver the Valentine’s with us, because I think that secretly each woman was thrilled to have a man be a part of the delivery. The delivering of Valentine’s taught my two brothers and me the value of caring for and thinking of others. The joy they received from it was obvious to us. Finally, getting us all out of the house gave Mom the time and space she needed to prepare for the grand finale of the day: our family’s Valentine’s celebration.
Our family Valentine’s Day celebration wasn’t the typical “Hallmark” event. Everything was homemade and carefully thought through…from the chicken and rice meal (Dad’s favorite,), to each little “I love you” gift for us children. The point of family gathering was to make it clear that each of us were loved. And that message rang through, loud and clear.
Because of my background, Valentine’s Day is not just a receiving day, it’s a giving day. It’s an opportunity to reach out to those who are generally over-looked and lonely. It’s natural and normal to give and remember those in need at Thanksgiving and Christmas, but by Valentine’s Day, they’re often forgotten again. And Christmas is a long way away.
Last year, as Valentine’s Day approached, I knew I wanted to follow in the steps of my mother with my two-year-old daughter, Kiersten. With a smile on my face, I worked with Kiersten to create finger-painted Valentine’s for two single women in our lives. What a privilege and joy it is for me to take this tradition full circle to the next generation, and teach Kiersten what it really means to love and care for someone. And that’s what Valentine’s Day is all about.
And I repeat, six years later…that is what Valentine’s Day is all about.
As I celebrate my mom’s birthday today, and think of her amidst the Valentine’s festivities in my own home, I am thankful for who she is and what she has taught me. Valentine’s Day is just one example of what she brought to our family. She has taught me the importance of celebrating, and creating traditions. Of making ordinary events, extraordinary. She has taught me values, such as caring for others. She has lived a life of faith, and through her example she has shown me how to pass that faith along to our children. She has modeled how to be a woman who loves the Lord, her husband, and her children. Because she has poured into me, I am filled to pour into my family.
Today she is my friend and a source of encouragement, support, and wisdom. And as you can tell from the opening paragraphs, she is someone with whom I can laugh and joke. I can’t imagine living life without her in it. Happy Valentine’s D…whoops, I mean Birthday, Mom! I love you!
What began as a shout out to Valentine’s Day, has ended in a shout to my mom. Which, if you think about it, is quite appropriate.