My dad used to say that Valentine’s Day was a Hallmark holiday. He saw it as a fabricated moment built by marketing teams at greeting card companies to cajole you into spending money on things that would never last—roses, chocolates, paper cards—in a false ode to something everlasting.
Basically, it was a commercial nuisance.
Sage man that he is, my dad is certainly not alone in feeling this way. For many, this is a holiday deserving of eye rolls and replete with images of last minute dinner reservations and lingerie only worn once.
These Valentine’s Day detractors are not necessarily wrong. And yet…despite my Dad’s sentiments, we did celebrate Valentine’s Day every year.
We celebrated with Valentines and candy for classmates, sure, but mostly—we celebrated together as a family. From a bouquet of flowers my Dad left for all his girls on the kitchen counter right on down to heart-shaped sandwiches in our school lunches, it was a day that my parents filled with thoughtful details. That I still remember so fondly.
Annually, my mom would prepare a special dinner which we often ate in the dining room—the terminus for any truly significant meal or holiday occasion in our household. There were small trinkets and cards. She took evident delight in shaping these special traditions.
This day allowed us to pause for a moment, cut out of the doldrums of February, to say, “How remarkable is it that we have each other?”
In myriad ways, that tradition has continued for me.
Feeling our way through nascent adulthood, my sister and I later passed a Valentine’s weekend together in her college town, where over delicious, soulful meals we supported each other through our own struggles—romantic, academic and otherwise.
Illuminated by the warmth of the deep bond we share, those struggles briefly receded into the darkness. Just as they always do when we’re together.
Years later, I spent a memorable Valentine’s Day over burgers, fries and cheap wine at a fast food restaurant with a best friend—where, it is worth mentioning, a server pitifully emerged from behind the counter to gift us, these two solitary women, a tub of free custard.
It was such a small moment in our larger history; but I treasure it, as I treasure her.
No matter what the day looks like, it is and was, for me, all about the wideness of the love you give away. The time you share with the people you love. The relationships that so richly spangle your life. The intentional way we tell people—you are a miracle to me.
I would hope to never require this day to prod me into saying these things; into remembering these things. But, in the end, the love we share in life matters enough that I’m okay having an extra reminder. I welcome it. I need it.
I have not made elaborate plans for my own family this year. Whether we go out for burgers or sit down to a beautifully set table, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is seizing the opportunity to celebrate the bonds that sustain us in whatever quirky way we choose.
Marilynne Robinson wrote in her novel Housekeeping, “Families will not be broken.” Whatever foibles we possess and mistakes we make, the families we create will always remain. They are transformative and indelible. Alongside the beautiful truth of this sits the uncomfortable reality that this permanence requires something extra of us to ensure we don’t take them for granted.
Unlike other major holidays where I can lose myself in gifts and preparations, what Valentine’s Day gets right is the knowledge that minute gestures ripple out in gently, generous ways. A homemade card, a squeezed hand, a glance that lasts a moment longer, a deeply felt emotion truly expressed—what more do we actually need to show the ones we love that they are not taken for granted?
Valentine’s Day is not the only moment where we can breathe life into these connections, but it is one irresistible opportunity.
However we spend the holiday this year and the year after that, I hope it will always be:
- A moment of gratitude for the people I love and the people who have loved me.
- A day to celebrate the quirky particularities of the ones I admire.
- A chance to give the most valuable gift of time.
- A time to say the words I’ve neglected to say.
- A future promise to myself and others to hold up the things that are most important.
- A small way to celebrate relationships that are anything but.
I wish you and yours a Happy Valentine’s Day!