On the first Valentine’s Day I spent with my husband after we were married, he handed me a small package wrapped in pink tissue paper, tied with a white bow. I pulled the ribbon and gently peeled back the paper to find two different types of vegetable peelers.
“I didn’t know which kind you preferred, so I got both,” he said sweetly, giving me a kiss on my cheek.
My friends thought me strange, but this is exactly what I wanted for Valentine’s Day. I didn’t want the sweets and flowers that came with relationships before marriage. To me, the vegetable peeler indicated a deeper love—a love that made dinner together, took turns cleaning the bathroom, and would be around for the next Valentine’s Day.
We know so little about the third-century saint for whom the holiday is named, but even so, it’s difficult to find St. Valentine in the mylar balloons and boxes of cheap chocolates associated with the day. The lore of St. Valentine seems to be a mixture of a few different men.
One secretly married Christian couples so husbands wouldn’t have to go to war. Another refused to sacrifice to pagan gods and, while imprisoned, healed the jailer’s daughter, who was blind. And somewhere amongst these stories, a note might have been signed, “Your Valentine.” One common thread among all these stories is that St. Valentine was a man who knew God’s love for him and wanted others to know it too. In my family, we try to keep this in mind as we celebrate the day to honor such a man. We try to think of ways to let the love that “has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:5) overflow.
One way we do this is by making handmade cards for our priests. I thought it would be a fun art project to introduce my young sons to the holiday and keep them occupied. We cut out pink and red hearts and frilly doilies and glued them to construction paper. With pre-school printing they wrote out, “We love you, Father!” to our priest. I thought not much of it until the next week, when our priest made a point to thank me at Mass. He said he had put up the card on the fridge in the rectory, and all the other priests had commented on it. It made me think of how much we ask, sometimes demand from our priests, but rarely do we thank or love them. That Valentine’s Day started a tradition, and even though my boys are older now, we still break out the markers and crayons, and now I join them. We write a little note to encourage the priests and religious sisters in our lives for all the love they pour into us.
Another activity we enjoyed, when my sons were quite young, was drawing chalk hearts. The boys were two and three years old and could barely draw a heart. We walked around the neighborhood making our mark in chalk on our neighbors’ sidewalks. I told the boys we were surprising them with love. They loved trying to be “sneaky” about drawing the hearts, so as not to be found out. We drew them in front of homes owned by neighbors whose names we knew and those we did not, neighbors we knew lived alone and those who lived in multigenerational families. In later days, some let us know they found the hearts and that they felt loved on a morning that started out as tough. Others said they didn’t know where the hearts came from, until a neighbor told them about two small boys gleefully drawing love all over the neighborhood. It’s a small gesture, one that even a two-year-old could do, but one that can connect a community.
St. John tells us in his first Epistle that “we love because he first loved us” (4:19). Isn’t that what Valentine’s Day is about? Loving others because God loved us first? Find ways to share that love with others.