BY MARY ELLEN CHRISTY
Many people think of Valentine’s Day as a “greeting card holiday” popular among children and young lovers. Valentine’s Day can trace its origins to a pagan fertility rite celebrated in Ancient Rome which involved the pairing of couples by lottery. There are a number of legends portraying St. Valentine as someone who rescued and united young lovers. Whatever the truth may be about that original St. Valentine, his spirit of kindness and love continues in many countries. In the Philippines, February 14 is the traditional day for marriages.
After nearly a year of fear and isolation due to this Pandemic, Valentine’s Day gives us the perfect opportunity to reach out with messages of affection and gratitude to those who have made gestures of kindness and concern for us, or to practice random acts of kindness toward those we have been missing.
In her wonderful book The Kindness of Children, Vivian Palley, a legendary educator of children, shares with us her research which validates the curiosity and innate kindness of young children. I believe that this is one of the reasons why young children and animals have such a natural affinity for one another. Their affection is uncomplicated and straight forward and neither would ever lie about Love. Perhaps there are family pets or neighborhood pets with whom your children have a special relationship. One idea to express kindness could be to prepare a special Valentine to treat such as a handful of dog biscuits tied up with ribbon or perhaps a catnip mouse presented in a Valentine bag like the one pictured here, decorated with angels and slim gold cord handles. Accompanied by a note and hung on the doorknob of neighbor’s houses, they will make a charming surprise gift. You might consider the same concept for friends, teachers, babysitters, and neighbors.
These small but sturdy Valentine boxes were purchased at the dollar store for $1.00 each. They are perfect for wrapped candies, homemade Valentine cookies, a pair of warm socks, a lip balm, or just a sweet homemade Valentine note. You can tie them up with ribbon and leave them on doorsteps – perhaps after ringing the doorbell and running away!
This year, Valentine’s Day falls on a Sunday, so you can start with breakfast or brunch by making heart-shaped pancakes or waffles.
Children of any age benefit from being engaged in the planning of family events, so why not plan a special family Valentine dinner for the family, planned and prepared mostly by the children. Let them help with decorating the table. These two little boys are making paper placemats by tracing heart-shaped cookie cutters using water crayons. Water crayons are nice because they are easy to work with and produce jewel-toned colors. Equally fun would be dipping the cookie cutter in red paint and printing with them. Let the children gather together any heart-shaped objects you find around the house to decorate the table. My Valentine table has a bowl filled with silk flowers surrounded by heart-shaped paperweights, a heart-shaped bookmark, a small perfume flacon, and three rather special objects. The three are a heart-shaped faux bisque box and a statue of a girl carrying a Valentine (both purchased by my children when they were quite small at the Ben Franklin Store in Walworth, Wisconsin) and a silver repousse heart-shaped box given to me by my husband when we were expecting our first child.
I believe it is important to let children share in the memories of things that are precious. Very young children can make red and white paper chains to hang from doorknobs or drape over banisters; they will love making the house look “fancy”.
You can prepare a simple Valentine dinner that will be every bit as much fun as the romantic dinners for two advertised in glossy food magazines. Be sure to add candles to the table to make it extra special. Large strawberries sliced in half lengthwise resemble hearts and children can easily arrange them on individual beds of greens to create a ring of hearts salad. Many local restaurants offer take out heart-shaped pizzas or you can roll out prepared pizza dough and then cut it into individual heart-shaped pizzas and children can put on their own toppings. For dessert, a sheet pan of brownies can be cut into heart shapes and served surrounded by cinnamon candies. After cutting the brownies, the scraps left in the pan can be chopped finely and stored in zip lock bags to be served over vanilla ice cream at a later date.
If you have older children who have been watching the Saturday Night Live skit, The Covids, they can make a layer cake studded with cake pops and call it a Coronavirus cake. Cake pop kits are available on Amazon and include reusable molds, sticks, and decorating ideas.
This holiday is perfect for working on crafts as a family. Instead of sharing digital photos, why not print out photographs of your kids and have them use the photos to make paper Valentines for relatives. Make a special family Zoom by having everyone wear red, pink, or white. Or, have a movie night and feature Enchanted, Lady and the Tramp, Up or Wall-E? You can also order some Valentine’s Day books online. Some of my favorites include Valentine by Carol Carrick (about a girl and her baby lamb, Valentine), Mama Loves You by Caroline Stutson, The Valentine Bears by Eve Bunting, and Hug Machine by Scott Campbell.
The week leading up to Valentine’s Day suggest to the children that we make a family Valentine box. Explain that this box will be used all week long to hold notes they write to recognize a kind thing that someone did for them or someone else in the family or to write a note telling why you love someone in the family. At the conclusion of your special dinner, open the box and read all of the notes aloud.
Most importantly, talk about LOVE. Ask your kids questions – who do they love? What do they love? Why? You might be surprised at what they say! And of course, tell them how much you love them. When you engage your children in this way, you are building tradition and memories.
Happy Valentine’s Day to all!