While recently standing in the CVS checkout line amid piles of Valentine schlock, my son -- an inquisitive little guy -- asked a question that most of us have surely pondered in our lifetimes. "Mom," he said in a loud voice, "why do we need Valentine's Day? I mean, aren't we supposed to love everyone every day?"
There I was, surrounded by suddenly curious drug store customers, at a rare loss for words. Just a few days before I had (purely by coincidence) taken the question to Facebook: Is Valentine's Day just a Hallmark-induced holiday, or does it mean something? Predictably the responses ran the gamut. Some relish the opportunity to show their special someone demonstrative love. Others consider Valentine's Day little more than a contrived money-making boondoggle. A few people were sensitive to those who wouldn't receive a Valentine--and how hurtful that could be.
So when my son asked the question, I was somewhat prepared.
Every year, on the night before Valentine's Day, my husband and I decorate our kids' rooms while they sleep. There are hearts and streamers. There are homemade messages strewn atop their furniture. We stick hearts in their underwear drawer and hearts in their lunchboxes. Balloons hang in the air. They get a special breakfast and I usually send them off to school with a hug and a bigger-than-usual "I love you!"
We love doing it, and they love it too.
At its best, Valentine's Day is a reminder to recognize the loves in your life. It doesn't have to be formulaic or mandated from large corporate interests. And just because those corporate interests exist doesn't mean we have to scrap the entire holiday (if we did that, we would also have to do away with Christmas, Easter, Mother's and Father's Day).
Back when I was a girl my dad would come home from work on Valentine's Day armed with a giant Hershey's Kiss or a bouquet of flowers. It was the only time I received flowers or chocolate and it was special. As I grew older I had myriad Valentine's Days without a Valentine. Many years were spent searching for the perfect Valentine and Valentine's Day card, dinner, gift, etc. Some years were great and some were lonely.
But the bottom line is that sometimes people do need a reminder. We can get so busy we forget to appreciate the people we love. And there's an oft-overlooked beauty in making the day special for someone else.
So with all this in my heart I asked my son a question in response to his question. "Yes," I said, "it is true we should be kind and generous all the time. But what's the harm in stepping up the game one day a year?"
To that, he had no answer. I told him I loved decorating his room and making the day a special day. I asked if he thought we could still do that. With a smile on his face he said we could. We went to pay for his Valentine's cards for his classmates. The man at the register complimented my son for being a deep thinker and I smiled.
I don't feel off the hook from treating people with love and kindness the rest of the year either. In fact, I feel more inspired.
A version of this blog previously appeared at The Family Coach.