by Lauren Clark
Valentine’s Day, like all holidays and feast days, were celebrated with gusto at the small, parochial school I attended as a child in coastal Mississippi. We celebrated all the big-name party saints like St. Valentine, the patron saint of lovers; St. Patrick, the patron saint of drinkers; and St. Vitus, the patron saint of dancers. Actually, Vitus was the saint you prayed to if you had seizures or other neurological dysfunctions of the limbs. We even celebrated the New Orleans Saints, but I digress.
On Valentine’s Day, all the students in my elementary class were encouraged to bring cards to give to our classmates. My Mother took this directive as a personal mission to make sure I complied and that everyone received a personal Valentine recognition from yours truly. She would buy a huge bag of three-inch assorted cards from the local five and dime store. It was my duty to address the envelope and sign my name on the back of the card. What my Mother failed to realize was that Valentines to my classmates had little to do with spreading love and goodwill and everything to do with power and exclusion. You see, the more cards a student received, the more popular and powerful they became.
As my teacher opened each of the students’ paper bag filled with Valentine greetings, my palms would sweat and my heart raced, wondering if I would receive a card from that batch or would I only get a gloating leer from all the “beautiful people” in my class. The experience reminded me of the NFL draft which seemed to unfold like this, “And the 35th pick in the one hundredth round of the 1957 draft, the Mississippi Misfits select from the University of Losersville, (insert name).” It was humiliating seeing the piles of cards amassed in front of all the “cool kids” and the few cards distributed among the rest of us. I prayed for the school bell to ring to bring this sadistic event to an end, but we still needed to eat the customary Valentine cupcakes which turned your teeth red from the toxic dose of red dye number three food coloring. My teacher would also distribute small pink boxes filled with candy hearts that would say things like “Be Mine” and “Luv You”. I often wished they included hearts that read “U Stink” and “Be Gone.” Oh well, it was a Catholic school and I guess those sentiments would have been considered immoral thoughts I would have had to atone for in confession.
When I grew into adulthood, the rules of the game for Valentine’s Day changed dramatically. The great thing was, I no longer had to sign a meaningless card for each of my classmates and I no longer had to endure the apprehension of getting or not getting a Valentine, which was akin to standing in front of a firing squad. The tradition morphed from power and popularity to validating your love for that someone special. It was about cards and jewelry and flowers and expensive dinners to prove one’s affections for another. I have a friend who often told me that receiving an unexpected gift meant more to her than the obligatory gifts associated with a holiday. My contention is why do we have to wait till February 14 and go overboard trying to demonstrate our love to another? Why can’t we do the small, meaningful things for our loved ones throughout the year? Okay, if you just have an unquenchable desire to buy something, you could give your “Valentine” a box of sweets but it has to be a Whitman’s sampler and less than five bucks. And you can also throw in a card as long as you can find an appropriate one at the Dollar Store. But the gifts have to stop there, or you may be tempted to look for those little pink boxes of candied hearts that say, “Sex Soon” or “Spank Me”.
Personally, I prefer St. Patrick’s Day over Valentine’s Day, hands down. To celebrate St. Paddy’s Day all that is required is to hang out with friends, wear some green and drink some beer. You don’t have to give cards or candy hearts. Everyone is considered Irish on March 17. No one is excluded and there’s no pressure to do anything but have a good time. And if you have too much to drink, it’s okay to shout some four lettered expletives, kiss total strangers and call them your Valentine forever. You could even dance an Irish jig. St. Vitus would be so proud.
Lauren Clark is the owner of Creative Wellness for You and a recruiter/consultant with Nikken. As an amateur comedian, she believes that humor is an important part of wellness. She frequently participates in open mic nights at Pitt Street Brewing Company where she performs stand-up comedy. Lauren also enjoys writing, through which she shares her unique and humorous perspective through memories and stories from her own life. For a more complete experience, read this story again, and don’t forget that the author is a master of sarcasm and dry humor.