If months of the year have personalities and themes, January is the month of resolutions, fresh starts, and household organizing, and February is the month of love. (The frugality, calorie-counting, and tidying components of January are significantly less attractive than the chocolate and heart-shaped cards that proliferate in February.) From its roots in ancient Rome, the Valentine’s Day minor holiday offers a precious opportunity to remind ourselves and those we love about our affection for each other.
Apparently the pagan roots of a festival of fertility and the mating season for birds was co-opted by the Christian Church to make February 14 the day to honour St. Valentine, who is credited (perhaps falsely) with sending the first Valentine’s message to a friend signed “From your Valentine”. The commercial card industry is very fond of this holiday, with Valentine’s greeting second only to Christmas as a reason to send greeting cards.
I suspect we can all remember the pleasure of Valentine’s Day from childhood card exchanges. It seems to me that throughout elementary school years, the build up to Valentine’s Day embraced a number of steps and craft projects. Earlier in the month, an art class would be dedicated to the manufacture of a suitable Valentine’s card holder that would serve as the mailbox for the cards to be distributed on the February date.
A class name list was sent home with every child. Then a parent was required to produce sufficient quantities of cards that would be painstakingly addressed to each class member, with a special card for the teacher. Personally, I loved the Valentine’s cards that involved some cutting out or popping out of large cardstock books. A certain amount of care had to be taken in selecting the card with the right tone and message for different class members. Very kindly, teachers would insist that every child provide a Valentine’s card for every student in the class.
On Valentine’s Day, somehow special heart-shaped cookies would appear along with some red-coloured juice, and then the process of distributing the cards through the class became the activity of the afternoon. Childhood’s democratic demonstrations of affection have something to be said for them. I think we can all remember the pleasure of sorting through the package of Valentine messages later at home. Even though the sharing of cards was a mandatory exercise at that point in life.
Somehow in the teenage years and beyond, Valentine’s Day becomes something much more focussed on one person, who becomes the recipient of special cards and gifts. This has its time and place in life as well, but perhaps there is also a place in our lives for a more generalized expression of affection for friends, neighbours, children and grandchildren in February. Making sure that we take the time to let people know that we appreciate them is never a bad thing.
For many couples, Valentine’s Day becomes an annual opportunity to share expressions of appreciation and love for each other. The tradition of the Valentine’s date for dinner is persistent and quite a lovely way for couples to carve out some time to celebrate the special romantic relationships that form the core of our personal lives. While red roses, chocolates and mushy cards may seem too contrived for many of us, the central idea of expressing and speaking our love cannot go out of style. Somehow I have inspired myself to go and find a book of Valentine’s cards and celebrate the holiday in a big way this year.
The Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra has a Valentine’s Day concert that I can highly recommend if you are looking for a Valentine’s Day activity that can inspire some suitably lovely musical tributes to your love. The concert is entitled Once Upon a Love Song and it is presented on February 14, 15, and 16. On Saturday, February 15 this is combined with a Valentine’s dinner. Call the WSO box office at (204) 949-3999 and make this a Valentine’s Day to remember.
Trudy Schroeder is the executive director of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra.