When I was growing up, my mother was supporting four children with the salary of a starving artist (despite what you might think, rich artists are few and far between—living ones, anyway). What we didn’t have in money for candy and store-bought Valentine’s Day cards, we made up for in enthusiasm and craft projects, and Valentine’s Day was our time to shine.
Creating an intricately detailed Valentine’s Day mailbox out of a cardboard box, construction paper hearts, and magazine collaged flowers that blew our classmates’ designs out of the water was the highlight of our winter. We spent hours creating handmade Valentine’s Day cards for our friends complete with watercolor paintings and personalized poetry.
For breakfast, my mom cut our pancakes into heart shapes to start the day off on a festive note. At school, we enjoyed showing off our crafty creations, exchanging cards, and eating candy and cupcakes with our friends (what a great Wednesday).
When the school bus dropped us off in the afternoon, we’d be greeted by my enthusiastic mother waving our first clues for our annual “Heart Hunt,” a scavenger hunt aptly named for the heart-shaped hints.
Now, I must tell you that my mother’s handwriting and spelling couldn’t get much worse, so not only did we have to solve the clues, we had to decipher them first. How that scatterbrained woman kept four separate scavenger hunts straight, I have no idea.
The prizes at the end of the hunt were poor people prizes—things we needed, like shampoo, a new toothbrush, or our favorite cereal (the store brand version, of course). But the real prize was the adventure of the hunt itself and the joy of being with people we love.
Valentine’s Day as a holiday is kind of awful. It originated in ancient Rome as a Pagan ceremony in which women were slapped with goat carcasses in order to increase fertility (seriously, Google it). Valentine’s Day in modern times is a source of anxiety for people of all walks of life, whether it is in the form of loneliness and FOMO (that’s Fear of Missing Out for all of you Gen X-ers and Boomers) for single folks or pressure and unfulfilled expectations for those in a relationship. The holiday is a boon for jewelry stores, florists and restaurants, but a bane for our pocketbooks and probably our happiness.
This year, I propose we celebrate Valentine’s Day like the group of people that actually enjoys the holiday— children. Forget the romance and expense and expectations. Bring on the laughter and silliness and time spent with the people you care about.
Sure, jewelry and flowers are nice, but you don’t need much money to create memories you will cherish for life.