Thursday, February 26, 2009

Spread the Love

Valentine's Day has never been a big favorite of mine. Really. Sure, I love to be told how loved I am and I am not one to turn away a bouquet of flowers or chocolate of any kind. Of course, now that I am married, I do like the funny greeting cards Jonas gives me and have come to expect them in the morning along with breakfast in bed. This year brought a hilarious cave-man themed version along with my favorite muffin. Regardless of the niceties I enjoy on February 14, it never really made sense to me why people choose one day in which to show their feelings when there are 364 other perfectly good days.

The basic history of Valentine's Day is simple. It began a few hundred years ago in celebration of a couple of martyrs named "Valentine." As the English courts flourished and "courtly love" came into fashion with Chaucer in the late 1300's, the expression of love in written form became more and more popular. In the United States, the first mass-produced cards were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland of Worcester, MA. Esther, the entrepreneur she was, took her inspiration from an English valentine greeting she had received and created her own out of embossed paper and lace. So we can thank the English for today's modern Valentine's Day celebration. Since then, Valentine's Day, like so many of our other holidays, has become mass-produced and mass-marketed to make businesses masses of money.

Remember elementary school when you had to bring in a Valentine for everyone in your class...even for the kid that wiped boogers on you or the one that ate paste in the corner? It was a good lesson in the Golden Rule. My kids still have this practice at school. Truth be told, they love it...more for the candy that is attached to the greetings than anything else. When Dakota was in first grade and Audrey in PK, we started making collages for our Valentine's. The kids have fun doing it and it is more economical. They each use a picture of themselves from the past year and create a greeting with drawings and stickers. I then scan and print the collages and these become their cards. This year, they taped heart-shaped peppermint patties to them for a minty message.

My 40th year is bringing a lot of time for reflecting. This February, while making these collages with the kids, I was trying to recall any memorable Valentine's Day. I wanted to give the day some significant meaning and purpose. I remember two: one with Dad and one with Jonas.

When I was little, Dad always gave me a Valentine card and present. No matter what. He actually continued this practice until I got married. Hey, Dad, why did you stop? The one I remember most was a yellow umbrella. There was really nothing that special about the umbrella other than it was mine and it was yellow...oh, and Dad gave it to me for Valentine's Day. I loved that umbrella and actually kept and used it from elementary school through college and into my first job. There is actually a picture of me in college with my friend Cindy walking in the rain under my yellow umbrella. It made it in our local newspaper. Every time I used that umbrella, I thought of Dad and how much he loves me.

It was February 14, 1995. I woke up and found some flowers that Jonas hid in my house the day before. We decided to get dressed up and go to our favorite Italian restaurant. There is a picture of us before we left I have hanging in our home: we are both young, thin and happy (not necessarily in that order). The most important memory I have of that night was looking at Jonas across the table and knowing that I was going to marry him. I'd never really felt that before and it was weird because we had only been "officially" dating since December. But when I looked in his eyes and laughed with him, I felt like I was home. A month later, we were engaged and then were married by December 30, 1995. When I look at the picture, it brings me back to the genesis of our love and reminds me of why we are still chugging along today.

Neither of these experiences really has anything to do with Valentine's Day. Sure, the events happened on February 14 of some year, but it could have and would have been any other day. Dad still would have loved me and probably would have given me my beloved yellow umbrella. Jonas still would have made my heart skip a beat whether it was over spaghetti or our favorite chicken burrito. My point is that Valentine's Day is only as magical as you make it, but why wait? Why not make any ordinary day just as special? It takes two seconds to say "I Love You." (yes, I've timed myself). It takes 5 maybe 10 minutes to write a note of affection or encouragement. One second to say "Thank You." A minimum of 2 seconds to hug someone, although I prefer about a 30 second squeeze. One day has 86400 seconds. Why not use few of those seconds every day to hug, thank and spread the love?

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