I’m about to write something extremely controversial and provocative. Proceed with the pitchforks and torches if you must. It will not change my opinion. Here goes. I’m glad—no, downright gleeful that my kids’ Catholic school does not celebrate Valentine’s Day. There. It’s officially out there. I’m truly happy there will be no shoebox “mailboxes” wrapped in red and pink paper and plastered with colorful stickers and foam heart decorations. No cutesy purple cupcakes heaped with gobs of frosting and sprinkles. No party with pastel streamers, balloons, Pinterest-inspired crafts, sugary drinks paired with adorable polka-dotted straws, and candy galore. Some of these things I look back on fondly from my own youth. I did really love those candy hearts with the pithy little sayings… miss you, be mine, kiss me. And taking my stuffed mailbox back to my desk where I opened each valentine with eager anticipation—I’ll admit—it was fun. And yet, I don’t want that same pleasurable memory for my own kids? There’s a reason I’ve taken such a counter-cultural stance against the feast of February 14th. In one sentence, we’ve lost our minds, folks. We took a turn towards Cuckoo-Ville, accelerated, and haven’t looked back.
Call me an A-1 party pooper, but I don’t want to spend time making homemade Valentine’s Day cards for all 25 kids in each of my three kids’ classes. Heck, I don’t even want to buy the cheap-looking ones from the store, which are NOT cheap at all. They’re over-priced and over-the-top. While they used to include corny puns and a blank line for the child’s signature, now, they come with bubble wands, pencils, erasers, scented tattoos, gel clings. Because nothing says “Happy Valentine’s Day!” like a super sticky, mini gel red hand meant to be thrown at the wall. In short, junk. Some poor people in China toil away their lives in factories so we can send our kids to school with all this stuff, so their friends, in turn, can take them home and promptly throw them out.
Our kids titter and giggle about whether or not their crush gave them a card. We inadvertently confuse them about romantic love when they have no real business concerning themselves with it at this stage in the first place. Ick. We fete the day with extravagant parties that room moms have painstakingly planned over the course of several meetings. They discuss colorful menu items, Valentine’s day-themed games, and how to make the holiday a hit for their little ones. They spend too much money. Trust me. I know. I’ve been one of those moms. BUT STOP!
As Christians, our Valentine’s Day should look different than the consumeristic holiday it’s become. If you’re not following me, walk into any grocery store at this time, which most of us are required to do, and it’s like a hot pink volcano exploded, spewing flowers and pink confetti in every aisle. I’m down with love. I LOVE love! This is not love we’re celebrating. We’ve merely reduced it to the cheesy romantic love that plays out in greeting cards and Hollywood rom-coms, but not authentic love that involves sacrifice and selflessness. It’s a cheap imitation. The world takes something beautiful, contorts it, puts pretty packaging on it, and sells it back to us at a steal. Only $4.99 for all this cheap plastic? Wow! Yes, gimme 25.
What does the Catholic church say about St. Valentine? While the origin is undoubtedly Catholic, there is speculation about the real St. Valentine. It is believed that he is based on the amalgamation of three martyrs from different places and times who showed profound love to God and His church, such love that they each died for it. In 1969, the church dropped the observance of the feast from the Roman liturgical calendar since they couldn’t pinpoint the historical accuracy. But this idea of profound love for the Lord and others, this is the beacon we need so badly, in order to steer us out of this worldly pastel fog.
Those of you moms who would be devastated if little Jonny wouldn’t get to hand out or receive Valentines this year, consider some more powerful ways to incorporate love into their day. Make this Valentine’s Day about authentic love. Here are my tips to bring Christ to your Valentine’s Day celebration this year.
1. Before and after school bring up the subject of loving God and others. Suggest they perform an act of kindness without anyone else knowing. Pick something up in the lunchroom for the lunch ladies. Remind them to love the way God loves them: without condition or barrier. When they come home, have them share one good deed or selfless act they performed that day. Did he or she exhibit the love of Christ to a teacher or student today? Did they go out of their way to include someone who was being excluded? This is Christian love.
2. In morning family prayer, witness to your kids the beautiful, practical ways your spouse or a loved one expresses authentic love. Say out loud for little ears to hear, “Lord, I’m grateful for the way my husband patiently listens to me when I’m angry, upset, or overwhelmed. I am blessed that he puts our family’s needs ahead of his own and loves us unconditionally. I love that he knows I need help with the dishes more than a bouquet of flowers.”
3. Have them write a love letter or prayer of thanksgiving to God. It could be as simple as having them offer up a prayer of gratitude in family morning prayer or have them meditate on it during the day. Then they can share God’s blessings for evening prayer.
4. Read a saint story that exhibits a profound love of God and others. Other people’s stories resonate in our own lives and make a big impact. There are countless Saint options here. Some of our family’s favorites: Jose Luis Sanchez Del Rio, Gemma Galgani, Mother Teresa, Dominic Savio. Google a saint, read his or her story. Discuss. Done.
5. Write Valentine’s Day cards to the elderly. This is when you can tap into your craftiness for a good purpose. Make cards for a nursing home or an elderly neighbor. Deliver them and watch Christ’s love transform the giver and recipient.
These are merely small ways to make Valentine’s Day more Christ-centered. But they all echo something much bigger—real Christian love—not the frothy, frilly consumer version that is shoved down our throats. For the record, my kids get to wear pink or red on Valentine’s Day. They assemble “blessings bags” for the homeless. The ziplock bags are filled with donated toiletries and other useful items the kids can hand out to those we encounter on our daily commute. Coincidentally, we will also be celebrating our parish’s feast day this week, while the rest of the world revels in sugary sweet confections. Our Lady of Lourdes appeared to a young, poor French girl in 1858. Mary had a simple message: she told Bernadette to pray and make sacrifices for sinners. Talk about true love.
Happy Valentine’s Day!