There probably was no saint called Valentine and the story we have about him is rather gruesome, but that shouldn’t keep you from making February 14 all about love. Love of family, friends and neighbors deserves to be celebrated every bit as much as romantic love, and maybe even more.
My son’s due date was February 12. On February 14, I woke up feeling huge and miserable, like this baby was going to stay inside me forever. The sky was dark grey, and the temperature had been below freezing for several days. I looked out the window of my New York City apartment and discovered that during the night, someone had hung big red tag-board hearts decorated with glitter and shiny stickers that caught the light from a branch on every tree on our block. Even though they were not meant for me personally, those valentines made me feel loved. Read one of my all-time favorite books, Somebody Loves You, Mr. Hatch by Eileen Spinelli and dream up acts of kindness for your neighbors.
Include strangers: fill up snack-sized Ziploc bags with foil-wrapped chocolate hearts or kisses and hide them for others to find. Take extra signed valentines to the public library and tuck them into books. Put them under soup cans on the shelves of your local supermarket. Carry valentines in your pocket, backpack or purse and pass them out to those you meet and greet–the bus driver, the postal clerk, the crossing guard. If there is no snow on the ground, you could draw colorful hearts in sidewalk chalk that will remind people of the conversation hearts we gave each other in grade school. I want to do that along my route to the subway.
Love by Matt de la Peña with illustrations by Loren Long is a picture book for all ages about the nuances of this feeling, this bond, this force. You need to read with your children at home or at church now. Read the Brightly review here.
Every so often, Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. I never give up chocolate for Lent; it makes me not a kind person, so I see it as counter-productive. My friend Laura Alary writes beautifully about the confluence in this article; and if you are a Lent-observing family, you definitely need her book, Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter. For me, the cross of ashes I receive on my forehead on Ash Wednesday is intimately connected with the cross of oil we receive in the same spot at our baptism. Here’s the heart of it: From Love we come, and to Love we return.
We need more love, but it doesn’t always have to be extravagant. Even if you are having a simple evening meal, you could set the table with candles, flowers and the fancy china. Print out the Christian valentines from blogger Angie Kauffman and put one at each place setting. She has several different sets, so it’s easy to choose the ones best suited to your family. Take time for each person to share what they love most about the others around the table. Let this be the night you decide how your family will show God’s love in action during Lent. Will you visit a seniors’ center, help out at an animal shelter or community food pantry, clean up a public park, make treats for the volunteer fire station?
Little children, let’s not love with words or speech but with action and truth.
1 John 3:18
Wendy Claire Barrie is the author of Faith at Home: A Handbook for Cautiously Christian Parents. This post is inspired by chapter 5, Seasons and Celebrations.