Now that nearly a month has elapsed since February 14th, I’ll venture to say that I don’t know why anyone bothers to get worked up about Valentine’s Day. I measure holidays by the variety and amount of candy that you are encouraged to eat on them and the amount of work or school they get you out of. It’s a poor excuse for a holiday that fails you on both of those accounts. (Arbor Day, I’m looking in your direction.) I know Candy Conversation Hearts have their devotees, but I for one am not impressed by a candy that comes across as emotionally needy, although it is true that Conversation Hearts have become much less effusive in recent years. Hearts from not too long ago said things like “SWEET THANG” and “MARRY ME,” which are a far cry from “FAX ME,” which is what this latest, more guarded generation of Candy Hearts would prefer us to do. And as far as I can tell, no number is given, making even this impersonal, perfunctory contact impossible.
I don’t even know much about the origins of Valentine’s Day. The part of my brain which heard and remembered the tale of St. Valentine (and everyone has had the story explained to them at least once) now stores the lyrics to Fat Bottomed Girls. I thus find it impossible to reflect on the true meaning of Valentine’s Day and why it is important for us to show our devotion to loved ones and Hallmark executives.
I suppose that your feelings about Valentine’s Day often stem from your earliest encounters with it, and mine were always fairly innocuous. Until I reached the age where I was supposed to have found someone else to love me on February 14th, our parents gave my sister and me candy, taking advantage of an opportunity between Christmas and Easter to shower us with affection and chocolate that they would have to help us finish.
Then there were the Valentines. Since the Law of Kindergarten stated that you could not give something to one person unless you had “enough for the whole class,” I was generally forced to make Valentines not only for my very exclusive group of First Best Friends, but for the kids I hated as well. Not to mention the many children I felt nothing for. Sometimes I made them by hand, sometimes I bought them pre-packaged and signed my name at the bottom in cursive, but either way, my seemingly magnanimous gesture was often fraught with subtle details which indicated, in my judgement, the social status of the recipient. Mary, my spelling partner, got the heart trimmed with lace and covered with glitter that said, “Love,” while Lucas got the misprinted Care Bear card in which Tenderheart Bear looks as though he has a fishing-pole sticking out of his head and six eyes. Lucas was a mouth-breather.
My family did host a Valentine’s Day party one year when I was about seven, which was a glorified excuse for my mother to put me in patent-leather shoes and a party dress. She liked doing that. As usual, the entire class was invited. The only memory I have of that party is that George, one of the kids who wouldn’t have come had I been in charge of the guest list, showed up with his dad and an extravagant (at least in my mind) present for me. It was a small candy-filled mug with “I LOVE YOU” printed on the side. I assumed from it that George did in fact love me, and treated him with nothing but scorn from then on. I knew how to play the game.