About a week or so after New Year’s Day, I was in CVS rooting through the 75 to 90 percent off Christmas clearance items. After I got my cheapie finds home, I regretted not buying more of the bargain-priced items. So a day or two later, I stopped by again, and the clearance shelves were already replaced by Valentine’s Day candy and gifts. When it comes to holidays, stores waste no time forcing out with the old and in with the new. Valentine’s Day is way bigger today than it was when I was growing up, and it has really changed.

I actually see a few houses in my neighborhood “decorated” for Valentine’s Day. I don’t mean a cardboard cutout in a window or on a door or a cupid flag flying from the pole on their front porch. I’m talking about huge inflatable cupids on the front lawn and red heart lights on the trees. Truthfully, I just got my Christmas lights down a few weeks ago, so I cannot relate to Valentine decorating at all. And it’s not just the decorations that have changed from back in the day.

My friend said to me the other day, in total seriousness, “Did you already do your Valentine Day shopping?” I stopped dead in my tracks — “My what?”

When I was young, Valentine’s Day was pretty simple and certainly didn’t require a separate shopping excursion. We covered shoeboxes in school with paper and decorated them with crayoned-on hearts, slitting a hole in the top for cards to be deposited. The big decision was what box of Valentine cards to choose (Scooby Doo or Flintstones?). Out of that box, I would carefully choose which card to give which friend. If I gave cards to the boys, I would pick the ones that were funny or corny, never a mushy one with an “L” word. I can’t remember how many years that we exchanged cards in grade school, but I do know it lasted longer than it will in 2017.

“No, we’re not exchanging cards,” exclaimed a fifth-grader when I asked him if they still made little mailboxes to deposit the cards. “That’s for babies!” I guess my grade school friends and I were big babies in the fifth grade — who knew. I used to really enjoy giving and receiving those corny little vintage cards that said “punny” phrases and sentences like, “I’m bananas for you” or “I’m ape over you” on a card adorned with a monkey holding a bunch of bananas or “You rate sky-high with me, Valentine” on a card showing a picture of a person in an airplane. The cornier and cheesier they were, the better. God bless our teachers who probably received 50 similar teacher cards because the classes were so huge back then. I doubt if the teachers were as excited as we were to open all those little thin white envelopes.

After carting home our little shoeboxes full of cards and a few goodies from the classroom Valentine’s Day party, if the teacher was nice enough to allow us a celebration, the second highlight of the day would come for me at dinner time. When my dad came home from work, he’d always have one of those huge padded red heart boxes adorned with fake flowers full of candy, along with a jumbo card, for my mom and three little red hearts full of candy for me and my two sisters. In those days of gender inequality, my two brothers had to just mooch some candy from us. One year, he went all out and bought us each an engraved silver heart for our charm bracelets, which were all the rage back then. It was so extreme, that I still remember it about a half-century later. My mom said that she still treasures some of those padded hearts and heart-shaped tins, which she has kept to store handkerchiefs and other small items because, according to her, “they just don’t make candy boxes like that anymore.”

As I went on through my married years, Valentine’s Day usually meant a dinner out with my husband and maybe a box of Russell Stover’s and a bouquet of flowers. Sometimes inside the card, he’d stick in a gift card for Dunkin’ Donuts, Wawa or some other coffee place because he knew my caffeine addiction. The gestures were simple, but they were meaningful. I looked through the ads this year, and the stores hawked everything from Pandora bracelets to trips to the Caribbean. “Have Valentine’s Day gifts really gotten that extravagant?” I wondered. The realization made me sad for those who just got over paying off their Christmas bills. I don’t think we need to go overboard with commercialism again. That’s just putting way too much pressure on people who are just now relaxing and letting a little loose after the stress of the holidays.

To me, it’s amazing that all these years later, despite all the changes, studies show that flowers, jewelry, chocolate, greeting cards and a night out are still the five most popular Valentine’s Day gifts.

If there’s no “sweetheart” in your life, don’t be a hater of Valentine’s Day. Rather, observe the day and reach out to all those you care about — change the focus of how you are viewing the day. Forget the red roses, the teddy bears adorned with hearts, the mushy valentines and winged flying cherubs shooting starry-eyed lovers with arrows. Instead, begin thinking and planning about “Who can I let know they’re awesome and appreciated?”

Valentine’s Day sales reached an all-time high of $19.7 billion in 2016 because Valentine’s Day has become a holiday that both couples and singles celebrate. That dollar amount isn’t about only couples romancing each other, but rather it’s about everyone spending a little cash on friends, co-workers, parents, siblings and extended family to let them know that they’re our “special someone.”

Just like adults, most children have so much in today’s world that I wonder if they would be as excited about those little hearts full of candy or even the shoeboxes of cards. Complex card creations on Pinterest make those little cards seem like bigger dinosaurs than they are. The store-bought cards themselves even escalated a few notches and now often include a piece of candy or small toy on them. I noticed even those little boxes of conversation hearts that we enjoyed as kids have changed. They used to say corny phrases (like the cards) or else simple lines like “Love you,” “Be mine” or “I’m yours.” Now they say things like, “Text me,” “Let’s take a selfie together” and “Private message me.”

I do like some of the ways that Valentine’s Day has evolved and changed. I like the way most teachers require their students to bring a card for every child or else they are not allowed to give out cards. We’ve all seen that famous Charlie Brown Valentine’s Day flick and we know how hurt children can be when they don’t get as many cards in their box as their classmates around them do. I remember watching children, with near-empty boxes, get hurt back when I was in school. Valentine’s Day was a popularity contest that reduced some vulnerable little children to tears. Valentine’s Day is meant to make people feel happy, not sad, so I am all for making every child get equal amounts of cards in their shoeboxes. Kudos to all the schools and teachers that make this happen.

Another great change is that Valentine’s Day, although it is still primarily for sweethearts to express their love, is also about showing affection to everyone you care about — friends, neighbors, co-workers, extended family members. Whether you send a card, take them to lunch, do a chore for them, buy them flowers or call them on the phone, the day offers an opportunity for you to show how important others are in your life. And I like that this is what Valentine’s Day has become. Some may say it’s just another chance for Hallmark to sell cards and Whitman’s to sell chocolates, but I think it’s much more than that. Valentine’s Day offers all of us a chance to make others feel loved and appreciated. I know we don’t need a special holiday to do that, but a special holiday certainly is a reminder to do it.

The gesture doesn’t have to be large, just thoughtful. Bake a batch of cookies and give some baggies of the treats to your friends, call your grandmother, hug your kids and take them to breakfast or drop off a little bunch of flowers to a neighbor you know has been having some difficulties lately. In other words, spread joy, happiness and love on Feb. 14. If you have a significant other, spouse or romantic partner, spoil them and profess your love in the traditional glory of the day. But if you don’t have someone like that in your life right now, don’t miss out on a chance to feel good by celebrating and relishing in this cherished day of love and appreciation.

I smile when I think back on those years of admiring the big red satin hearts of candy because they certainly are all nice memories of simpler times. However, I now feel blessed to live in a time when this special holiday has expanded its scope to remind us to let others know that they matter and that they’re important to us. However you spend the day on Tuesday, make it count, share the love and don’t miss the chance to tell others that you “are bananas about them. “

Happy Valentine’s Day to all of our readers!

Readers can contact Peg DeGrassa at pdegrassa@21st-centurymedia.com.

comments powered by Disqus