Family & Education

Valentine’s Day: A Time to Celebrate Love

BY Jeff Minick TIMEFebruary 8, 2022 PRINT

Valentine’s Day is by far the oldest of our American holidays.

We can trace its history all the way back to the early times of Ancient Rome and the feast of Lupercalia. Celebrated in mid-February, the fertility rites of Lupercalia featured certain priests of the city dashing about the streets carrying strips of goat hide dipped in the sacrificial blood of the goat and a dog, and lightly striking willing female spectators who hoped to bear a child that year. According to legend, many other young women put their names into an urn during that festival, bachelors would pick out the cards, and for a year, the pair would spend time together.

Weird, yes, but there it is.

Later, the Catholic Church appropriated this event, though not its practices, and declared it Saint Valentine’s Day after a Christian martyr. More time passed, and for a variety of reasons, this saint’s feast day became associated with romantic love. In the late Middle Ages, there began the practice of exchanging letters and other tokens of affection.

Today, of course, stores and card shops offer an abundance of Valentine’s Day cards and gifts, bouquets of red roses, boxes of chocolates, miniature candy hearts, and balloons. When shoppers select one of these items, they are carrying forward one of our culture’s oldest traditions.

A Unique Celebration

While some dislike or disparage Valentine’s Day—for example, cynics label it a Hallmark Day, meaning it’s a sort of plot to sell greeting cards—many others take great pleasure in the Feast Day of Saint Valentine. All our other holidays mark either a historical event—Christmas and Thanksgiving come to mind—or, like Labor Day or Veterans Day, they honor groups of Americans living and dead for their work and service. But while it’s not recognized by our government as an official holiday, Valentine’s Day stands alone in this pantheon of commemorations, the one time of the year when we set aside a date to celebrate love.

And that festive occasion can be enjoyed by young and old alike.

Sweets and Treats for the Kids

My wife, Kris, loved all holidays. Like many people, she’d deck the house out for Christmas, wear her special—and gaudy—Christmas sweater, and spend an entire day baking holiday cookies with the kids and with friends, but the merriment didn’t end with Christmas. For the Fourth of July, for instance, she planted flags along the front sidewalk and decked out our kids in red, white, and blue outfits. On Saint Paddy’s Day, she made sure they wore something green and would hang Irish prints and posters around the kitchen.

And for Valentine’s Day, she would decorate the house with posters and pictures featuring hearts and Cupids, and give the children bags of miniature hearts, cards, and special cookies. Sometimes, she’d have them assemble construction paper, scissors, and glue, and paste together a collage of hearts.

These are just a few ways we can make this celebration special for our children. We might also tuck a loving note into their backpack or lunch box as a surprise for when they’re at school, have them create handmade cards for Grandma and Grandpa, or throw a Valentine’s Day party in our home.

In the online article “14 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day With Kids,” we find even more ideas and projects for making this day special for the young ones. Here, the authors recommend such activities as putting together a holiday tray of cheese and candy, watching movies together such as “The Princess Bride” or “Frozen,” and using colorful bath bombs for that evening’s session in the tub.

Most important of all, they advise us to tell our little ones how much we love them and why.

Tweens and Teens

The past two years of school lockdowns and other restrictions have left many of our teenagers feeling the blues, with some of them suffering serious depression. The gray days and cold weather of wintertime certainly don’t help improve this mood.

February 14 offers just the ticket to break out of this slough of despondency.

Time to throw a friendship party.

This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Monday, which means you may want to schedule such a party on the previous weekend, or if you need more time, on the following Friday or Saturday evenings. Have your teens help do the planning and send out the invitations. You can go in all sorts of directions with this one: a potluck, a smorgasbord, pizza, heavy hors d’oeuvres, or just an evening of light refreshments. If you’re friends with the parents of these teens and if you have the space in your home, invite them along as well.

Plan some games, again with suggestions from your teens. Charades is a great party game, as it includes everyone and brings a lot of laughs.

Decorate if you wish, but keep in mind that the main purpose of the evening is to let the young people have some camaraderie and fun. Keep it simple, and light up the winter’s darkness with a Valentine’s celebration.

Let Us Count the Ways

Whether you’ve just lost your heart to another or you’ve been married for half a century, Valentine’s Day is made for you. As stated above, it’s the one day of the year we set aside to honor love and romance. The wise among us will take full advantage of this opportunity.

In their online article “30 Fun Things to Do on Valentine’s Day for a Memorable and Romantic Night,” Salena Barrientos and Hannah Jeon offer some wonderful suggestions for couples wishing to make a special memory of this day. These ideas run from sledding to hiking to cooking together.

They also recommend writing a love letter to your partner.

Here, I’d like to add to this suggestion in detail. Sit down with the person you love, pen in hand, and compose your letters to each other at the same time. Pour a glass of wine or a cup of cocoa, maybe light some candles, and begin writing. Set a limit either in the time allotted or pages covered—you don’t want this exchange of notes to become a competition—and write simply and directly about why you cherish the other. Then share what you’ve written. Just like the children mentioned above, all of us long to hear why we are loved and lovable. Now’s the chance to give your beloved one of the greatest of all gifts: an affirmation of your love.

And if you require some inspiration, just look to one of the greatest declarations of love ever written, Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s immortal sonnet to her husband Robert:

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.”

Happy Valentine’s Day, everyone!

Jeff Minick
Jeff Minick has four children and a growing platoon of grandchildren. For 20 years, he taught history, literature, and Latin to seminars of homeschooling students in Asheville, N.C. He is the author of two novels, “Amanda Bell” and “Dust on Their Wings,” and two works of non-fiction, “Learning as I Go” and “Movies Make the Man.” Today, he lives and writes in Front Royal, Va. See JeffMinick.com to follow his blog.
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