A tradition born in Great Britain
February 14, 2023
Today is, of course, Valentine’s Day. A day when hopes and expectations far exceed reality. When I was in elementary school, Valentine’s Day was probably THE biggest day of the year. We looked forward to getting our red construction paper folders filled with the cute greeting cards from our classmates; the afternoon always meant cupcakes and cookies provided by one of our parents.
It was, however, the introduction of the Valentine’s Card which propelled the holiday to what it is today. From the Infallible Wikipedia:
“In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, called ‘mechanical valentines.’ Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early 19th century that they were assembled in factories. Fancy Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the mid-19th century. In 1835, 60,000 Valentine cards were sent by post in the United Kingdom, despite postage being expensive.”
Oh those crazy for love Brits!
Eventually the idea made its way across the Atlantic and sending Valentine’s Day cards became all the rage in the US also. Although the statistics are from a few years ago, it is estimated by the US Greeting Card Association that “approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year in the US. Half of those valentines are given to family members other than husband or wife, usually to children. When the valentine-exchange cards made in school activities are included the figure goes up to 1 billion, and teachers become the people receiving the most valentines.”
That’s a whole lot of paper.
Valentine’s Day at my house when I was growing up consisted of each child getting to purchase a package of Valentine’s to give out in their classroom at school. For several days before the big day, I would painstakingly decide which of the cards (each box usually contained several different sentiments) would be given to which classmate. Their name would be written on the envelope and the card inside signed by me.
Each year I seemed to ‘like’ one of the boys in my class and would obsess over which card to give him.
Finally, on February 14th, we would arrive at school, our fistfuls of valentines in tow, and wait for the announcement from our teacher that it was time to distribute our Valentines.
Up from our seats we would spring and then drop our cards into the folders hung around the room. Sometimes they were taped along the window and at other times at the front of our desks. There was an unwritten rule that if you gave a card to one then you had to give a card to everyone. While this was going on, some dedicated Mom would be there, setting out delicious baked goodies (my mother was often that person!). At last we were allowed to open the swollen folders and read our cards.
Now, there were ALWAYS some lame boys who didn’t give out Valentines. Or they might break the rule and give out a few but only to certain people. Undoubtedly it was one of those boys who I had a crush on who either didn’t do it or only gave it to the most popular girl, who wasn’t me. It was usually Kristin. Everybody loved that girl! Which takes us back to how expectations exceed reality.
After school I’d go home to a big family Valentine’s celebration. Or not.
As on any other day, my mother fixed dinner and served it right at six p.m. It was after dinner, however, when my Dad would get up, produce a Valentine’s gift for my mother, and present it with a flourish.
Every year. Not just some years. But every year. Always the same gift.
It would be wrapped but we all knew what it was: a box of Russell Stover’s chocolates.
My mother would open it, exclaim how much she liked it, and then would kiss my dad and thank him for it.
Each of us children would be allowed to choose one piece of candy. I hated when I accidentally got the coconut one. Yuck. (Pro-tip: the coconut ones were sometimes hidden as round ones. Best to pick a rectangular one)
That box of candy would last for a week or two with one piece of candy allowed after dinner each day.
Yep. That was it. There were a few Valentine’s Days over the years when I was the recipient of some romantic gesture. But for the most part, once our kids reached elementary school, I simply carried on the tradition of letting my children pick out a package of cards to give to their classmates; I also became the mom who brought the treats. One year I baked heart shaped sugar cookies, frosted them in white, pink, and red frosting and wrote EVERY child’s name on their cookie. Yes, I was that crazy. I also noted that most of the kids didn’t eat their cookie but instead told me they were taking it home to show their Mom. Hah!
Now, I love sugar cookies but unless I have someone who wants to help me decorate them, I don’t do them for all the holidays like I once did. So forget those. And forget Russell Stover’s. The easiest and best Valentine’s gift in my opinion are Sanders Dark Chocolate Sea Salt Caramels (see my story on these here)… or even Dove Dark Chocolates… oh, who am I kidding, OR whatever chocolate. Just so long as there’s no coconut.