Confession: I've taken public delight in disdaining Valentine’s Day while personally kinda liking it. Partly I like traditions, though rarely go over the top with them. However, it could maybe be said that this one has tilted in that direction over the years--but not (to be clear) in the ways that benefit Hallmark or Hershey. Valentine's Day got a whole essay in Dirt and The Good Life. It's worth repeating what I learned while writing that, so I'm posting it here. My Valentine for readers whether they embrace this day or not.
So, as I said, I’m in this pottery class and finding myself surprised by how delightfully consuming it is. I’m actually liking my early attempts to create useful and interesting vessels and so far when I’ve brought pieces home to work on them Mark has not said, “that’s interesting” in the same tone we used when Megan Anna came home from first grade and gave us a pinch pot she made at school.
I decided to make Mark a manly mug for Valentine’s Day. It’s a slab piece, big, textured, with a round bit of clay at the base of the handle that looks like a screw head holding it on. I hoped to glaze and fire it in time for Valentine’s Day, but that didn’t happen. I wanted to fill it with all things chocolate. A specialty packet of chocolate drinking cocoa, a bag of fair trade baking chips, a fair trade mint chocolate bar, a coupon for my chocolate pudding cake, a dark chocolate brownie mix. I realize it will spill over the mug a bit.
But since the mug wasn’t ready I gave him the chocolate in bags and envelopes throughout the day, and the mug will come soon enough, a late Valentine’s Day gift.
Every year Mark and I tell each other that we are not going to observe Valentine’s Day. By that we mostly mean we aren’t going to buy each other gifts. The gifts seem cliché, and we like to think that we are above cliché. But celebrate we do, in spite of ourselves. Our first year at Fern Creek Mark finished installing the oven just in time for us to bake up a Papa Murphy’s Take-n-Bake pizza. We ate on a card table in the middle of what later became our family room, full of the dust and debris from the kitchen cabinet installation and the stonework for our fireplace. I scrounged up a candle and we ate on two plates from Goodwill since all our belongings were packed away in storage until we finished the house.
The next year I created a romantic candle light dinner for two in our bedroom, and another year hosted one in the loft upstairs. This year we had dinner back in the bedroom, though if it hadn’t been raining we would have dined in the gazebo, with a string of white lights and candles framing our space and the music of the creek for background.
All that said, my general response to Valentine’s Day had been to mock it as another holiday created by greedy capitalists. My issue was not so much that Valentine’s Day promotes a gushy week of cheap romance, but that Hallmark created it to get us to buy cards, and then Tiffany & Company and Hershey jumped on board, and wa-laa, a day to celebrate love and romance became another month to spend money and consume stuff we don’t need. But when I learned that Hallmark didn’t create Valentine’s Day, it became more acceptable to me to embrace it, even if doing so makes me feel like a cliché sell-out to Consumerism.
The Roman Catholic Church recognizes three Valentines who might have been the St. Valentine behind Valentine’s Day. All of them in various ways are connected to fostering love and lovers. The Church declared February 14th Valentine’s Day around 498 AD. As is true of nearly all religiously observed days, pagan fertility rituals made their way into the mix, and sometimes it is hard to tease out which observance came first. Since birds become fertile and begin mating mid-February (our hens certainly pick up their egg laying in February!) France and England thought the day should be given over to romance. As long ago as the 16th century secret and not-so-secret lovers made each other cards and gave small tokens of love on February 14th when face-to-face expressions of love felt too forward. Cards started being mass-produced in the 1840s, and now about 1 billion Valentine cards are purchased each year. Women buy a whopping 85% of them. I imagine that includes all the mothers buying those punch out valentines for their children’s parties at school (why we encourage 1st graders to observe Valentine’s Day is a bit of mystery to me. What sort of early socialization are we offering? An early exercise in consumerism in the name of love? Ah, I digress…).
At any rate, for the sake of a bunch of relationships between men and women I have to hope most of those valentines purchased by women are for children’s parties.
But why not enthusiastically join a 400-year-old tradition of celebrating romance and love one day a year? I want to set the last of my hesitation aside and jump into the challenge to find creative ways to say, I love you, I’m thinking about you today, and I’m glad it’s you and me walking this road two by two without having to use Hallmark, diamonds, florists, or heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. Actually, writing that out on a piece of paper and slipping it into Mark’s wallet would be pretty sweet, or writing it out 10 different ways and hiding each one in various places for Mark to discover throughout the day. Maybe I’ll do that next year. But why wait until next year? Maybe I’ll do it next month after all the post-Valentine Day dust settles and the chocolate hearts, valentine cards, and knickknacks go away.
Romance is good. Love better yet. Here’s to gratefully joining a history of romance and love-making. Happy Valentine’s Day.