Yesterday’s Valentine’s Day Wouldn’t Even Make the cut for an R Rating
If you google the origins of Valentine’s Day you would be surprised to find traditions that you won’t want to share with the little ones! Apparently the Roman feast of Lupercalia, which took place between Feb 13th and 15th, was an evening of debauchery, where mostly naked and drunk men and women performed rituals - often violent, including thrashing women with the skin of a sacrificed animal - all to bring about fertility. This ritual typically ended with a matchmaking-like lottery. By the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I made it a Christian holiday; it tamed the celebration somewhat and it expanded to include celebrating love. In good time, Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized the holiday in their work and by the middle ages, handmade paper cards began to be exchanged - a tradition alive and well today!
A $19 Billion Dollar Holiday
Valentine's Day is now celebrated globally. In Denmark, they exchange “lover’s cards” or a “joking letter” which might contain a humorous poem or rhyme written on cut paper and signed anonymously. In South Africa women may pin to their sleeves the name of their someone special. In most places around the world, it has become quite commercialized. According to the National Retail Federation, total spending for Valentines Day in 2019 was over $20 billion, up 6 percent from 2018.
Adolescent Valentines, Budding Romanticism or Onset of Insecurity?
Have you ever stopped to think about your connection to the holiday- what it means to you or how it makes you feel? My childhood memories of Valentine’s day are colored by insecurity and worry. I remember somewhere in my early teens anxiously listening for my name to be called during homeroom, when the student reps would deliver “candy grams”. Would I get a note? Would it be anonymous? A few years later, in jejune young adult relationships, this holiday offered an opportunity to measure romanticism. The pressure mounted….. what to wear, what to gift, where to go and how to plan so the evening would end in intimate bliss?
Making Valentine’s Day a Family Affair
After marriage and kids, many a valentine’s day morphs into something expanded - to include parental love. How many parents sit patiently with kids as their write out homemade cards to bring to preschools? How many of them, by their second or third child, succumb to the store bought pre-packaged sort. I for one remember one year with Star Wars mini-cards, without an iota of personalization, relinquishing my vision for effort-laden, personalized expression of friendship for his. More recent classroom culture trends tend towards more sensitive and inclusive. My youngest's child’s teacher wrote last year, “If you send cards, send one for each child!” And she insisted on allergen free treats or alternatives to food treats (such as slime, pencils, etc…) - an effort to keep children with food allergies worry-free and safe.
Middle School Valentine’s - Free Fall or Opportunity to Build Grit?
These fair and controlled experiences seem to end just when hormones start to fire up! Leaving the safety of elementary school, middle schoolers begin the free fall of Valentine’s Day - I guess just like I did. They likely sweat the “candy grams”, “locker decorations” or other middle school Valentine’s rituals. During these adolescent years, this holiday does in good measure offer an opportunity to build grit, tolerate insecurity and disappointment, and hopefully on one or two occasions, create a special, loving memory.
Hopeful Directions for Valentine’s Day’s Future - Inclusivity, Friendship and Thoughts for Those in Need
I can’t help but wonder if this reflection on the origins of Valentine’s Day doesn’t to some degree highlight hope and direction for us all. A highly sexualized, violent ritual eventually morphed into a tamer, more romanticized celebration. And a few centuries later, even our preschoolers can safely join in - celebrating friendship!! Thank you, elementary teachers, for leading a new way, lighting a path to inclusion, kindness and thoughtfulness. May your lessons expand a bit to middle, then high school, in some age appropriate way - not through controlled inclusion, but through reflection on the message we send each other and society at large. May in start to include more awareness and sensitivity to sexual spectrum. While I am a strong believer in celebrating romantic love - especially my own -why not also include family and friendship love in our modern Valentine’s rituals. How can we in our intimate circles and communities be joyful around the 14th - celebrating all sorts of love, but also mindful of those who are hurting - those who have lost loved ones, are alone, or simply feel alone? Should our thoughts focus as much on those who have lost a job, who battle an illness, or whose family is tiny and/or distant as the one who makes our heart throb? So when celebrating Valentine’s Day, stretch beyond the candy, chocolate, roses and Hallmark calls, and ask a youngster, not just, "Who is/are your Valentine(s)?" but also, "Who in your world could use a Valentine the most?"