I’ve always loved Valentine’s Day; I go so far as to say it is my favorite holiday.
When I was growing up, my mother made Valentine’s Day special for our family: with cards and candy and an out-of-the-ordinary meal. She bought heart shaped gum drops (cherry, never cinnamon!), and it was my job to attach them with toothpicks to a Styrofoam cone to make a centerpiece for the table. It was fun and I remember it like it was yesterday. It never occurred to me that my parents might want to go out by themselves for a candle-lit dinner. For us, Valentine’s Day was a family event: a low-key, minor holiday that always showed up like an unexpected treat. I love that my mother set a precedent for celebrating the day in a non-romantic way; I think it was a wise thing to do. Because I never had a steady boyfriend in high school, Valentine’s Day had the potential to be a disappointing day for me, but it wasn’t: I knew I could count on my mom to make the day fun.
When I became a wife and a mother, I found myself in the position of forming traditions for my own family—especially as they related to celebrating special days. Since my husband was in the Air Force and had to be away from home a lot, he often missed holidays and birthdays as our girls were growing up, but amazingly, he was almost always at home for Valentine’s Day. Back then, even if it had been in our budget to go out for a romantic dinner (it wasn’t!), hiring a babysitter surely would have broken the bank, so we happily followed my mother’s example and chose to celebrate the day at home, as a family.
Every February 14th, before Bill got home from work, our daughters made homemade cards, and then helped me decorate the dining room with paper hearts and streamers. We put Valentine cards, candies and small gifts at each place at the table. Later, we put on red shirts and posed together to take a family photo before dinner. Our meal was something that fit the theme of the day: like heart-shaped meatloaf “iced” with pink-tinted mashed potatoes, followed by a red dessert—usually strawberry pie or cherry cheesecake. Those low-stress family celebrations are some of my happiest memories.
One year, Valentine’s Day found us in the middle of a temporary relocation: staying with close friends in Oklahoma. To include our friends in our tradition, we bought a box of inexpensive Valentine cards—the kind children exchange at school. We each filled out a card for every other person at the table, anonymously saying what we most liked about each other. It was a simple way to share sentiments about one other that we’d always kept to ourselves. It made for a sweet and memorable evening.
My daughters are grown now, but we still do our family Valentine dinners—though not always on February 14th. These get-togethers continue to be something we all look forward to. I believe having traditions that are uniquely our own gives our family a sense of identity and strength. I love that we’ve formed these traditions and that we’re okay with having them change a bit with time. We feel no pressure to be like any other family. We just share a meal with the people we love most, while these days basking in the glow of red, heart-shaped twinkle lights.
I hope you’re making special plans to enjoy yourself next week as people around the world mark the day set aside to celebrate love.
And since love takes many different forms—you have plenty of options.
So, whether you gaze into the eyes of a special someone over a romantic dinner, or you share a pizza with your closest friends, or you take a card and a flower to a lonely neighbor, or you spend time with family, like I do, I wish you a very Happy Valentine’s Day.