Friday, February 13, 2009

Valentine's Day

I would have to say, for me, Valentine's Day is a sadly overrated holiday, a marketing ploy to get us to spend money at a time of year when things are bleak and winter seems like it will never end.  I was reflecting on it today when one of my students asked me about the reason for the celebration (traditions and celebrations being one of the strands in our grade 2 curriculum).  It was a difficult question to answer.

When you are single, Valentine's Day is a day to feel alone.  It's all about being a couple and when you are not, you feel it more acutely.  You fantasize about how it would be to have someone to celebrate with and to have someone with whom to do something incredibly romantic.  More than anything, though, it just reminds you of what you don't have.

Then, you are with someone and you again have these crazy expectations of something really spectacular.  The first year that dh and I were together, I will say that I fell for the sappy stuff - the teddy bear, the room decorated with balloons, the chocolates and the romantic music.  More than anything, it was nice to have someone to celebrate with.  After that, it began to lose its lustre.  Dh tried to find ways to make it special but it didn't take long for him to run out of inspired ideas.  I will never forget the year that he tried to make a big red heart for me in the snow.  He went out, built up the heart and poured boiling water over it to get it to set.  The final touch was to pour red paint on it to turn it red.  Sadly, he isn't always such a detail person and he had bought powdered tempera.  He sprinkled it around and by morning, it looked less like a heart and more like a large blood splatter on our front lawn.  I only wish that I was the photo person then that I am now - they would have made some very interesting pics (vaguely reminiscent of crime scene photos).

We gradually allowed Valentine's Day to pass almost unnoticed, other than maybe a card or a nice dinner.  We were really feeling like we were whatever the Scrooge equivalent is for Valentine's Day so about 5 years ago, we decided to make the effort to do something special.  We live in a small town about an hour north east of Toronto and we decided that we needed to try some local restaurants.  We had gotten lots of flyers through the door for the special Valentine's Day meal at a local restaurant with a fixed menu and entertainment.  The chef was listed as being a "chef to the stars" and the food was supposed to be gourmet.  The only confusing aspect was the fact that the restaurant was at a local trailer park (mostly holiday trailers) on highway 48.  We were curious and this seemed just quirky enough to be worth a try.  While it didn't end up being anyone's idea of a romantic night it, it certainly was memorable.  It was frigid outside and when we arrived, we were led just inside a room with decor that was more 1970's steakhouse than anything else - wooden captains chairs with leather seats and studwork, stucco walls with heavy wooden beams and carnations on the tables (sorry but I detest carnations).  Our table was by the door and shortly after our salads arrived, we decided to eat in our winter coats.  Our waiter finally noticed and moved us further into the restaurant.  That gave us a much better view of the 60 something huge Greek man with the comb-over with the cheap keyboard who was providing music for the evening.  When he started singing "Strangers in the Night", I thought dh and I were going to pee our pants.  Several of the entrees were unavailable and there were no desserts left at all.  Fortunately, at least the company was good.

Then, we started teaching and Valentine's Day became even more hellish.  I defy you to feel romantic after doing not one but two Valentine's Day parties with 4 year olds (the morning class and the afternoon class).  It got a little bit better once I started teaching grade 2 and only had to do one party but there is absolutely no romance left.

The awfulness of it really hit home for me this year.  Pk goes to daycare and there was going to be a daycare party so I dutifully went out to buy cards.  I had gotten some cute ones at the Christian bookstore for our church friends but I didn't think they were appropriate for the daycare families - I don't know their religious affiliations and I don't want to offend anyone.  I assumed I would be able to find something that was fairly generic - since Pk is such a dog and cat lover, I thought I might be able to find something with puppies and kittens.  No such luck.  Maybe I was looking at the wrong places but there was nothing but licensed - High School Musical, Hannah Montana, superheros or Disney Princesses.  I really think those companies get enough advertising without my doing their job for them.  As my good friend Kittenpie says, motherhood is the "death of a thousand papercuts", but at this stage, anyway, I am still really trying to stay away from the horrendous commercialism and manipulation of our children engaged in by companies like Disney and the very questionable values and statements of those companies, especially to our girls about their value as women.  I finally found one set of cards that would work but they cost me a lot and I felt kind of stupid writing them - really, does a 17 month old need to send Valentines?  I couldn't bring myself to not do it - I had a serious case of mommy guilt - it was bad enough that I wasn't going to hand make and ice heart shaped cookies to be wrapped in pretty cellophane and ribbons like one of the other mothers did.

What I don't understand is how Valentine's Day can be considered such a great celebration when people all complained last year with the Ontario government created Family Day (which is a stat holiday now celebrated in Ontario on the 3rd Monday of February).  There's a holiday I can get into.  You don't have to buy anything, give any presents or put up decorations.  There isn't a frantic pace, a long to-do list or a gut- stretching meal to prepare.  It's just a day to sleep in (or not), to hang out with your family, to go out to enjoy the snow (or not) or to do whatever your family enjoys.  You get a long weekend at a particularly grim time of year and you don't have to go into debt to do it.  We are going to spend in with some good friends and their children that we don't often get to see and since everything is closed, we don't feel any pressure to go anywhere.  I would love a few more holidays like this one.  I might even be happy to buy a card or two for it!


  1. O.k., now that I have posted that, I feel like a total grinch because dh found a way to truly surprise me with something very sweet.

  2. Oh crap, my bloglines is acting weird and I missed like FOUR posts! Gah!

    Anyhow - Valentine's Day is actually a takeover of an ancient fertility festival called Lupercalia, so I'm not feeling it's a made up holiday, just that's become commercialised (like evrything else!)

    For Pumpkinpie's first one at daycare, I cut squares of thick paper, gave her pirple and red paint, and let her paint the, stamping her name and the recipient's and a rose on the back. Last yuear, I made those woven heart pouches, stamped names on them again, and tucked a heart chocolate in each. Then last year after the fact I found some puppy valentines on clearance, so I bought those and kept them, and we made heart crayons to go with them. It's kind of fun if you get in the spirit - it's pretty much my one crafty exercise of the year at this point, so I'm all over it! I have next year's idea already...