I have been a minority amongst my friends for most of my adult life because I love Valentine’s Day. I don’t complain about it being a Hallmark holiday or dismiss it as being too materialistic (while trying to find storage for one more bike, one more sled, or one more sport-specific Gortex jacket), instead I wholeheartedly embrace a day devoted to love. I have to admit that I think when people join the trend of hating on it, they are just being lazy. And what’s up with that argument about not needing a special day to tell people that you love them? I call bullshit on that excuse too. I believe that you can embrace the essence of the day without spending a dime, but then again, I was educated about February 14th by a witch.
Even though I didn’t have Hallmark, overstuffed apes holding giant hearts, or waxy chocolate in heart-shaped boxes as a kid, inside the little three-room schoolhouse in Bamfield that I attended, Valentine’s Day was not dissimilar to what kids experience elsewhere. We made and decorated little ‘mailboxes’ for our desks and exchanged cards with cheesy messages. The only difference was a tradition that had been going on in our community for decades. Every year we would get called into an assembly and presented with a package that had been ‘found’ in the schoolyard addressed from Belinda the Valentine’s Day Witch (I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t go over so well these days). Inside would be a heart-shaped cookie for every student – about 80 – with our names handwritten on them in icing. There would also be a letter that described Belinda’s adventures from the previous year. I can only remember the details of one and it talked about how she and her raccoon friend had flown over Vancouver and were surprised to find a giant golf ball – this description of Expo ’86 was the closest some of us got to actually experiencing it.
Now if it isn’t clear already, Belinda was a fictional character. And this story is as much a defence of my love for Valentine’s Day as it is a tribute to my grandma who passed away last year. It was a coming of age for many generations of youth in Bamfield to discover that Belinda the Valentine’s Day Witch was actually Grandma Ardie. And this passage into adulthood usually came well after the truth about Santa and the Easter Bunny. For her, creating this beautiful tradition was an expression of love for our community and about giving what she could. Through years of poverty, she always found ways to be generous – sometimes just with her time, and that was enough for all of us to feel loved.
Belinda’s presence in our lives taught us that Valentine’s Day wasn’t a day about being accepted or chosen, about eating fancy dinners or getting expensive gifts, it was about inclusion, friendship, tradition, and community. She created a day that wasn’t about bad last minute drugstore gifts or the disappointment of being single for just one day a year; instead she created a want in all of us to meaningfully express our love to everyone in our community – and this is often more effort than buying an expected box of mass-produced chocolates.
I still think that when someone dismisses the big V-Day as ‘just a Hallmark holiday,’ they are being lazy, because even if Hallmark created it (which they didn’t) – why be so sour about a day devoted to love? Pick up the phone and call a friend, bake some cookies for someone nice, mail a card to your parents, whatever it is, use the day as a reminder to celebrate the people who make your life special. And when you do actually do these things every day, then I will let up. But until then use Valentine’s Day as a reminder to celebrate everyone in your community, not just the ones you’re sleeping with.