Thursday, February 27, 2014
It’s February. It’s cold and miserable outside. One minute it’s hailing and the next minute it’s snowing. I’m grumpy and ready for springtime. But wait. Can you feel it? Something warm and fuzzy is about to happen—Valentine’s Day is coming—love is in the air!
The day, of course, is named after St. Valentine. But who decided that Feb. 14th would be the day when sweethearts declare their love with gifts and romantic cards? Some say because it was the day when birds chose their mates. I think that’s a stretch. But really, who cares? It’s a day for young and old to celebrate romance.
Valentine’s Day is a fun tradition. But when it comes to celebrating and gift giving, the most important thing to remember is: don’t forget! A 2013 survey conducted by the Retail and Marketing Association found that 53% of women who didn’t receive something for Valentine’s Day would end the relationship!
Every year, about one billion cards are purchased and sent—mostly by women for men. About 40 million boxes of chocolate are purchased—mostly by men for women. About 198 million roses (the flowers of love) are sold—mostly to men for women. Jewelry is another hot item and accounts for about $4.1 billion in spending—again by men for women. It sounds good to me.
So ladies, we get off relatively easy. A recent survey showed that men prefer a gift certificate to their favorite store over that other “stuff.” Of course, we may have to cook dinner. The survey also found that the vast majority of couples prefer to enjoy a romantic dinner at home for a fraction of the $150 cost at a fine restaurant.
Today we enjoy this holiday but we don’t take the meaning of it as seriously as couples did hundreds of years ago. I think that the following traditions maybe coined the term “blind date.”
You’ve heard the saying, “wearing your heart on your sleeve?” Well, in Colonial America, young ladies would write their names on slips of paper. At a Valentine’s party, young men would draw names out of a hat. The guy would wear the name of this lady on his sleeve for days to proclaim her as his valentine. Interesting. It makes me wonder how things worked out if the wrong name was drawn.
Across the pond, in England, a suitor would leave a basket of gifts on his beloved’s doorstep and run off. Surprise! In Italy, young ladies would awaken before sunrise and look out their window. Tradition said the first man they saw would either look like their future husband or be the man they would marry. Another surprise!
In Denmark, a man would send a woman a Valentine letter containing a rhyme and sign it with a series of dots to represent his name. If the woman guessed his identity correctly on Valentine’s Day he would reward her with a gift. But I wonder, what if she didn’t like the guy and didn’t want his gift?
Today’s generation is a bit more cynical. One Valentine’s season, Meg Pickard and her housemate David Pannet were joking around about the lack of available cards for those who don’t like the hearts and flowers hype of the season. According to an article in The Telegraph, UK, their anti-valentine card idea was born and their first cards were on the web within an hour.
Meg took the idea and ran with it. The cards were cynical, fun and immensely popular. Most of the sayings can’t be printed here but with slogans like, “Oh, my ***. Thirty and still single,” they poked fun at the commercialism of Valentine’s Day. In 2000, they sent out a couple of thousand cards. By 2005, the cards went past the 200,000 mark.
Meg has since moved on, married, had a child and shut down the website. But there are others that feel as she did. November 11 is Singles’ Day in China; a type of anti -Valentine’s celebration. It's a day for young people to celebrate being single and an excuse to log onto websites where products are sold at half price. Last year, just six minutes after midnight, $164 million was spent on Tmall.com, China’s version of Amazon and eBay.
Call me silly but my most memorable Valentine’s Days were in my youth. As a child, the love and appreciation for others was pure and innocent. I can still remember sitting at my desk at home and carefully choosing the person who matched the pictures and verses on each card. I envisioned my friends doing the same.
All of us then took the cards to school and placed them in a shoebox decorated with red tissue paper and doilies. Near the end of the day we had the familiar red punch and homemade cookies party. It was such a thrill to open the envelopes from your friends, bask in their attention and nibble Sweetheart candies that said, “Be mine.”
Simple sentiments made us giggle with appreciation: “Roses are red, Violets are blue, Sugar is sweet, just like you!” And it was really special if a card said, “You’re sugar and spice ‘n everything nice. Say that you will be my valentine!” Or, “They call it puppy love.” In High School, some of the more brazen teens would write: “Plenty of love, Tons of kisses. Hope one day to be your Mrs.”
Happy Valentine’s Day to one and all! (And whatever you do, don’t forget your sweetie!)
Betty Kaiser’s Chatterbox is about people, places, family, and other matters of the heart.