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How Sweet It Is
Valentine’s Day. A day to let others know you love them whether a spouse, children, parents, grandparents, siblings, friends – whomever you want to send a little love. As far back as I can remember, I always celebrated Valentines’ Day; it was a tradition I grew up with and continued when I became a mom even though I am Jewish.
As an elementary school student, the entire class would bring in cards for every classmate; you remember those kitschy cards your mom would take you to get Sometimes they would include heart-shaped lollipops or a box of conversation hearts. My mom would dress me in red. My parents always had a card a small gift – chocolate, costume jewelry.
By the time high school rolled around, we’d only give cards to our friends. School clubs would have fundraisers where you could buy a carnation for someone and they would give them out on February 14th. Sure, sometimes I would feel left out not receiving one but I always knew that my mom and dad would make this day special. I have fond memories of getting flowers and cards from boyfriends past; I actually never gave the day any meaning other than it being a day of love. That was until my first Valentine’s Day with the man who would become my husband.
We had been dating for almost nine months when Valentine’s Day arrived. “I’m sure he has flowers or chocolate and a card,” I thought. As it got later in the day, there was not a mention of Valentine’s Day – no flowers, no chocolate, not even a card. I felt disappointed but I did not want to overreact. When we saw each other the next day, I told him how upset I was. He told me he did not celebrate Valentine’s Day. My response was to ask “how do you not celebrate Valentine’s Day when there are displays of love everywhere?”
That is when I realized this day was complicated. We are both Jewish but while I grew up celebrating this day as just a secular holiday, he grew up not acknowledging the day whose origins can be traced to ancient Rome. On the one hand, it explained why he didn’t mention the day, but on the other, I could not understand why he would not have mentioned this prior or at the very least, given me a card.
It is holidays like this that make relationships complicated. There is no right or wrong; we just had differing beliefs. I never attached any religious significance to the day. If I had thought it went against his personal beliefs, I would not expect him to acknowledge the day or give me anything. He explained that it wasn’t a day that went against his beliefs. It was part of his upbringing to not celebrate Valentine’s Day. From that day forward, he always made sure to give our daughters and myself a card.
After we were married and had children, we’d give them cards and a small gift. One daughter went to a secular pre-school where they made hearts out of doilies and other heart-themed crafts; the other daughter went to a Jewish daycare so they did not recognize the day.
Even when they were at college, I sent them Valentine’s Day care packages. (I’m sharing HaveUHeard’s gift guide for inspo).
Love Valentine’s Day? Then Celebrate That Love
Recently, I had a conversation with my daughters about their dad and my first Valentine’s Day. My parents celebrated the day as a day of telling someone how much you love them; my husband’s family did not acknowledge the day as anything more than a religious holiday. That got me wondering if rabbis are changing their position. I know that many, especially those that are Orthodox, still will not consider it appropriate. But I did come across this blog from My Jewish Learning that does explain why many rabbis today allow Jewish participation on Valentine’s Day.
Personally, I only associate Valentine’s Day with it being a secular day. I continue to give a card and small gift to my daughters and my mom. And while it has become a very commercialized day, (HaveUHeard that Valentine’s Day sales hit 27.4 billion in 2020?), I love celebrating my love for my daughters, my relatives, and my friends.