Valentine’s Day is probably my favorite artificial holiday. It’s a non-holiday holiday. I mean, every holiday is made-up in the sense that they were all created by people, but Valentine’s Day especially lacks legitimacy. What is it but a thinly-veiled marketing ploy designed to make people upset at each other for not meeting society’s expectations? Let’s talk about the history: a long time ago, there was a massacre and that made us all really horny so now we pin our self-worth on someone buying us a plastic rose from a gas station. That sounds horrible.
But I love it. I hardly ever pin anything and even I have a Valentine pinterest board for crying out loud. When it comes down to it, although I hate stuffed animals and anything labeled ‘rom-com’, I really like crafts and I really, really like chocolate.
My love for it has more to do with the space it occupies on the calendar and the fact that it involves making lots of crafts and eating lots of chocolate. Chronologically, we desperately need this holiday: we’ve finally recovered from Christmas and the days are gray and short but feel long. Winter weighs heavily on our souls and we need a reason to celebrate the first tiny signs of life are stirring within the earth. We need to know that a change is coming. We need to feel it.
Before the kids were born, Anthony and I had a Valentine’s Day tradition of taking a long drive through the country with no real destination in mind, just exploring the back roads, enjoying being together and talking. We’d make a special playlist and burn it to CD to listen to on our travels. With any luck, the holiday would fall as a storm was gathering or leaving and we’d be treated to the most amazing clouds drifting over a barren, late-winter horizon. One year some volunteer paperwhite bulbs bloomed right on the fourteenth and when I picked them they stayed fresh for days. It was a small miracle of spring. I brought them with us and their smell perfumed the whole car. I can’t even think about Valentine’s Day now without thinking of those drives.
Now that we have young children we don’t do the drives and the focus has moved to other things. When you have Kindergartner with a passion for anything pink or heart-related Valentine’s Day is a craft frenzy. Our crafts have quadroupled and in the kitchen we go out of our way to see how many things we can make heart-shaped. Our other yearly tradition, besides making crafts, is watching our favorite romantic movies. We have a list that we rewatch every year: Chocolat (perfect for this time of year, and of course, chocolate!), Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World, and perhaps the most romantic movie of all time, The Princess Bride.We can watch all of these around the kids, which is always a plus, since TV without kids in the room is a rare thing for us indeed.
I thought I’d share some thrifty ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day in a low-key, less-is-more (fun) spirit. Romantic partner not necessary. Do these with your friend, or your kid, or by yourself.
THRIFTY WAYS TO CELEBRATE VALENTINE’S DAY
Notes on the Fridge
They don’t have to be lovey-dovey or even serious. One time I printed out an NPR Valentine for Antony and stuck it on the fridge and waited for him to notice. He called me a nerd. It was a very special moment. Leave them for your kid or your roommate or put them on a friend’s fridge when they aren’t looking.
Cook a Special Meal
Going to a restaurant on Valentine’s Day seems like the worst idea ever, unless you love exhausted servers, waiting a long time to be seated, and harried chefs. No, thank you! Even a simple meal at home is more special. It’s even more special if you make a dessert. It doesn’t have to be chocolate or heart-shaped or bright pink, but I like to use the excuse to go full-throttle Valentine mode since it makes Isobel so happy. I use this holiday as an excuse to make as many foods heart-shaped as I can. If it were just Anthony and myself, I’d probably fix us steak with asparagus or artichoke (seasonal springtime favorites) with fancy chocolate for dessert.
Make Valentine’s Cards
I used to make really elaborate Valentine’s Day cards for all my friends and family. It was a lot of work that didn’t feel like work at all: it was supremely relaxing. It’s a craft-loving holiday but you obviously shouldn’t feel obligated if crafts aren’t your thing. I felt I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least touch on the subject of handmade cards. I’ve made lots of different Valentine’s cards over the years, and as much as I love vintage holiday clip art, my favorite of the cards I made didn’t look anything like tradition Valentines at all. Now I get to help Isobel make hers for her classroom.
The Japanese have a lovely tradition in early spring called hanami, or cherry blossom-viewing, in the spring. To celebrate the transient beauty of the blooms, picnics or parties are held under the trees. It has nothing to do with Valentine’s Day, and in fact in Japan it occurs in March, but where I live in the Valley all the stone fruit trees are in blossom by mid-to-late February. I have never had a picnic under those blossoms (I’m not sure any farmer would be willing to host me, what say you, Ellen?) but I do have a yearly tradition of heading into the country with my camera and photographing the blossoms.
Bouquets are always nice, but they can be pricey. Force blooming indoor bulbs, like the aforementioned paperwhites are not only beautiful but provide a lesson about nature to kids. They are thrifty because they can come back, year after year. Potted flowers are also nice as they last a lot longer than a bouquet.
Do Something Nice for Someone Else
Do something–anything–nice for someone else. Help a friend, help a stranger, make a donation to a worthy cause. Anything. Instant mood-lifter.
Take Valentine Photos
I took photos of Isobel holding a large vintage “Be Mine” heart and sent them to the grandparents. If I didn’t have kids I’d still totally do this–I’d just use my cats instead.
Watch the Same Movies Each Year
I mentioned that Anthony and I do this. It’s laid back and we look forward to it every year. Since we have a few movies on our list we try to spread them out over the month of February. To switch things up you could tell a friend your favorite romantic movies and they could tell you theirs, then watch each other’s faves, together or separately, and report back. A friend will be able to more accurately predict a movie you will like over Netflix’s recommendation suggestions.
Have kids? Now might be a great time to leave out books on sex and procreation for your kids to browse. This idea came straight from Bucktoothed Mama’s brain and when the kids are older I’m going to adopt it. Also Civil Rights. February is Black History month and so your local librarian has selections of age-appropriate books on the subject at the library. Talking openly about race is as important to preventing bigotry as setting a good example. The whole concept of racism was all very abstract to Isobel until I explained to her there used to be a law preventing brown-skinned people like Daddy from marrying light-skinned people like Mommy. She was shocked and appalled and it started a great conversation.
Go On A Nature Walk
Kids in my family are required to go on nature-walks year-round, but this is the time we talk about will happen in spring, what is happening now, and the changes in nature. I’d have preferred this to driving, but drives became our tradition as I wasn’t healthy enough for walks. If weather and health permit it, this President’s Day weekend I’d like to take the kids to a new park a few towns over to keep the walks fresh and exciting.
Make Your Own Playlist
Before kids Anthony and I used to take so much time making playlists. It was fun and we were very picky about what song went on any one list. If you are bored of your selection, listen to love songs in a genre you don’t normally listen to (but still like), or, as in the case with movies, ask for suggestions from a friend. (If you are feeling angsty, I’ve got the perfect playlist for you.)
Holidays can be uninspired commercial nonsense but they don’t have to be. Make your own traditions, and write your own lore.
Tons more Valentine’s ideas here.