Years ago, my little sisters serendipitously sent a valentine that changed how I celebrate Valentine’s Day with my kids.
When I was little, my dad became friends with a sweet elderly man, Peter, whom he met at church. Peter didn’t have any living family and was lonely, so my parents would have him over for dinner sometimes. He seemed to enjoy this time spent with our family of 7 lively children.
One year, my younger sisters were making valentine cards for school, and they had the idea to send a card to my dad’s friend. My dad delivered it to him the next time they saw each other.
To his surprise, Peter became a little emotional. He explained that it was the first valentine he’d ever received in his life.
He had grown up in a country where Valentine’s Day wasn’t celebrated when he was a child, and he never married. By the time he moved to the United States as an adult, there simply was never an occasion when someone sent him a valentine.
My dad came home and told us kids the story, and we were all moved. When my sisters set aside an extra card for Peter, they never imagined it would mean so much to him.
That little incident got us thinking that many people must feel lonely on a day dedicated to love. So it inspired the way I celebrate Valentine’s Day as an adult.My twin sister started the tradition a few years ago and I loved it so much I quickly followed suit.
Our valentine tradition is making small gifts and cards for people who might not get a valentine otherwise. I brainstorm a list of people—my widowed grandmother, my elderly neighbors, my single great-aunt—and have my kids make homemade valentines for them.
Some years, we just send cards, lovingly decorated by little hands. Other years, we get more creative. Last year, my kids decorated bookmarks as a little gift our friends could use all year. This year, we’re trying to decide between painting refrigerator magnets or decorating photo frames.
This tradition is something I love to do with my kids each year. And honestly, it makes the holiday a lot more meaningful for me as I tend to be a bit of a Valentine’s Day grinch. I tend to think of it as a pretty silly holiday.
The real St. Valentine was martyred painfully, and it’s unclear how the holiday became associated with romantic love as St. Valentine was a celibate priest (as a hilarious old Onion article says, “I Wish I’d Spent Valentine’s Day Eating A Prix Fixe Dinner, But I Was Too Busy Getting Beheaded”). On top of that, St. Valentine was removed from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 because of the lack of reliable information about him.
Valentine’s Day might have been a sweet and sincere observance at one time, but its modern incarnation strikes me as something of a racket. My simplicity-loving self balks at the excess, so every year I tell my husband he’s welcome to bring home flowers and chocolates—but not until the day after Valentine’s, when it’s all marked down.
But my kids, like most kids, can’t get enough of holidays and special occasions. So every year, my children want to do something to celebrate Valentine’s Day. Our tradition of sending cards to the lonely people in our lives is the perfect solution for us. We can share love for others on a day dedicated to doing so, without buying into all the fuss.
My hope is that our tradition not only makes our friends feel loved but also teaches my kids to think of others, just as my sisters did when they sent a valentine to our dad’s friend all those years ago. That’s a cause that even a Valentine’s Day grinch can celebrate!