I’m a holiday kind of gal. I really enjoy excuses to celebrate special days, especially when the celebrations involve preparing food. But Valentine’s Day? I’m just not that into it.
There’s been some shakla v’tarya amongst the Jewish mommy bloggers about whether it’s appropriate for Jewish families to celebrate “St. Valentine’s Day.” I’m not a real stickler for determining the ancient origins of a holiday long divorced from its religious or pagan history. We celebrate Halloween, after all (though as I blogged back in October, it’s not one of my favorites.) Nevertheless, when I received an email from Zoe’s preschool reminding me that all children would be decorating and hanging Valentine bags in the classroom, I groaned. The idea of “helping” Zoe construct 15 creative handmade cards was only slightly less appealing than the idea of buying a box of cheesy pre-made cards with stupid jokes. (Zoe received one with a picture of a yawning hippo and the caption “You’re such a bore.” Um, Happy Valentine’s Day to you, too…..)
When we received an email the next day with a list of the correct spellings for all 14 of her classmates, the message was clear that opting out was, well, not an option. The Jewish mama in me suggested to Zoe that we bake and decorate heart-shaped sugar cookies to share with her class rather than making cards. The treat lover in Zoe loved that suggestion. A serendipitous “snow” day (there was no snow) on Wednesday made the plan executable, and, voilà!
While I was fairly delighted with the outcome, there will be no repeat performance today, in honor of the real holiday. In fact, there is no evidence at all of Valentine’s Day in our home, other than the bag of valentine cards Zoe received in preschool.
After reading what other Jewish moms had to say about the holiday, I thought a lot about my relationship (or lack thereof) to Valentine’s Day. Why am I not turning this into another joyful day for our family? I realized that the primary reason is simply that my family didn’t celebrate this holiday. Not for religious reasons, as far as I know, but I think just because, like me, my mom just wasn’t that into it. ( I actually had no idea that Valentine’s Day was a holiday that parents celebrated with their children until I was in college, when my roommate Jenny received an annual care package of red, pink and heart shaped treats from her mother.) Consequently, my associations with Valentines day are all about romantic love. Decidedly not the domain of 4 and 6 year olds.
And as for romance…..well, I were to construct a long list of my husband’s many fine qualities, let’s just say “romantic” would not crack the top 100. Even when we were dating, and he pretended to be romantic, Valentine’s Day was way out on the very periphery of his radar.
All this makes me realize how above all else, family, both of origin and of choice, defines our relationship to holidays. Despite a popular culture that has inundated me Valentine’s Day messages since birth, I have absolutely no emotional attachment to this day. There’s an obvious lesson for me here as a parent. If I don’t make a fuss about the holidays and traditions I hope to pass on to my grandchildren, (all of which are ignored by the dominant culture) the odds of Ella and Zoe caring about these traditions is terrifically slim. And, as part of an interfaith couple, my job is just that much harder and more essential.
Which is why I plan to make a much bigger fuss about Purim. We’ll bake again, but more and better. We’ll decorate mishlocah manot baskets and go on a family outing to deliver them. We’ll host a Purim seudah. I’ll do everything I can to make sure it’s something they remember for a long, long time.