Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A Trampled Tradition
How St Valentine's Day used to be

Back in my high school days (1947-1952), February 14th was a day of sweet but semi-secret excitement. For it was the day when some unknown person – or several of them if you were really lucky – might send you a valentine.
If you got one – and we all hoped and prayed that we might – it meant that someone, somewhere, fancied you.

For us girls it meant that a boy (usually one who was too shy to ask us out or even too shy to speak to us) had been watching and admiring us from the shadows. But of course one never know who he was. That was the whole point.
What was special and different about a valentine card was that it was never signed. That was the beautiful mystery of it.

On February 14th I would also hug to myself the delicious thought that whatever handsome, wonderful, unattainable boy I was secretly lusting after at the time would on this special morning be holding in his young, sweaty hands the card I had screwed up my courage to send him, and wondering who on earth it was from.

Of course, the day might come and go and no cards would fall through the letterbox or appear, tucked under the lid of your school desk, at morning recess. Inevitably, (especially if your best friend had scored a sheaf of valentine cards and had walked around all day looking smug about it), you would go home feeling like the ultimate no-hoper and spend the evening moping around in a stew of low self-esteem and squeezing blackheads. But hey, life is like that. It is all part of growing up.

In the years that followed, I remember receiving a few valentines from prospective suitors but usually I could guess who had sent them. And any time I was ‘going steady’ with someone, I could guarantee that he would send me a card. Though still unsigned of course, even if he didn’t bother to disguise his writing. For that was the tradition.

Once I was married, there were no more cards. Not that I recall, anyway. The only thing that might happen on February 14th was that one of us might say “Hey it’s St Valentine’s Day today. Will you be my valentine, darling?" And we would have a hug.

Fast forward to 1987. My kids are grown up, I’m divorced and I’m now re-married – this time to an American. February 14th and goodness gracious, here in the mail is a valentine card. Who on earth can that be from? It is not my husband’s writing. Surely I don’t have a secret admirer, do I?

Imagine my surprise, consternation and… well yes, embarrassment .. when I open that card and find that it is from my new mother-in-law. My mother-inlaw? !! She fancies me? Good grief! Oh surely not...

No, my mother-in-law had simply fallen foul of the Hallmark Conspiracy. Later, when I went to live in the USA, I discovered, of course, that St Valentines Day over there had lost all its meaning and its mystery. Now it had become yet another day for people to buy cards and chocolate and teddy bears and all kinds of consumer stuff. (As if we didn’t already have too many opportunities for that.) Yet another sweet tradition trampled by the muddy boots of commercialism. What a shame.

You might say, in defence of all this indiscriminate sending of (signed) cards and chocolate hearts to anyone and everyone including daughters-in-law, that it is simply a nice way of telling someone that you love them.

Well OK. But I think there are better ways – ways that don’t buy into the whole consumer culture. If you love someone, just tell them so. Any old time, not just on February 14th. Give them a hug, a shoulder rub, a foot massage, a pot of home-made jam, flowers from your garden. Walk their dog, baby-sit their kids, help them with their homework. If they are far away, send them an e-mail, telephone them, write them a poem. Tell them how special they are to you.

Poor old St Valentine was martyred and lost his head. There's no way I am going to lose mine and get caught up in the Hallmark Conspiracy. No cards for me please. (Unless, of course, you are a secret admirer who is too shy to tell me you fancy me... now wouldn't that be interesting?!)


Air Force Family said...

Hi! My name is Eden and I came across your blog by searching Valentine's Day with Google.

I enjoyed what you wrote regarding Valentine's Day. Because of my age, I'm one of those people that are semi caught up in the Hallmark Conspiracy, but...I do enjoy the cards for what they say. And the only person I sent a card to was my sweet husband, he's at Lackland AFB going through BMT (basic military training)/bootcamp.

Please feel free to stop by and visit my blog. I love visitors.

Thank you for the little lesson on the mystery of Valentine's Day! I think I'll be a mystery to my husband next year and change my handwriting. I think it will be fun and definitely a mystery.

Have an awesome day!!!

Rain said...

I remember a lot of Valentine's Days. In grade school it was a major job as you had to send Valentines to everyone in your class. You bought boxes of them and spent a lot of time signing your name and adding theirs to the envelope, deciding which of the different ones was best. Then with high school, it meant a dance, maybe something from a boyfriend or maybe a time of disappointment. Frankly I don't like the day. It has usually ended up being disappointing and like Mother's Day, why one day a year to remind you if it happens there is no one special!

KerrdeLune said...

Marian, I loved this posting, and it brought back so many memories for me of school days and paper Valentines purchased in the local department store. We still do exchange cards sometimes, but we make our own, and those loving cards are not restricted to St. Valentine's Day.