Why I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day

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.

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posted February 14, 2010 at 9:43 am

I also don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. For different reasons.
Funnily, this choice was one of the hardest ones for my mother to deal with when I became Orthodox!
I find myself trying hard to keep my judgmentalism and frustration in check with the number of identified Jews do celebrate the holiday. If we look at the lessons of Hellenism and history then “it’s not religious for them anymore” or “nobody remembers it is after a Saint” or “it’s just American culture now” not only don’t work as arguments for celebrating, but they are frightening echoes of past decisions that we made as a people that led to our destruction and exile.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day every year for the majority of my life clearly didn’t keep me from serving Hashem in the long term. And expressing love for each other is a nice thing every day.
But if we trust the wisdom of the Talmud and our sages (albeit a big if for some), then we have to trust that their is a reason we are warned so strongly against participating in cultural events that are clearly “loazi” or of a non-Jewish origin completely.
Wew! It felt really good to finally get that off my chest… : )

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Sarah Buttenwieser

posted February 14, 2010 at 10:11 am

i gave hosie some ketchup (as i mentioned in my valentine’s post).
i like that you’re describing over time the way holidays can be made bigger or smaller as you choose & that tradition within a family can be about anything. good reminder not to jump on large bandwagons unless you want to.

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Edible Torah

posted February 14, 2010 at 11:02 am

I didn’t see this until I posted my own Valentine’s Day item, but I appreciate the points raised both by ImaBima and Ima2seven.
I find that we are falling somewhere in the middle – we aren’t “celebrating” Valentine’s day, but we are acknowledging that we can be aware of how and when we say “I love you” to each other, and how maybe we ought to make that expression of affection a daily phenomenon rather than needing Hallmark to remind us once a year.
Actually, it’s twice a year here in Ohio, since we also have Sweetest Day. Talk about an invented holiday!!

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the Rebbetzin

posted February 15, 2010 at 8:48 am

Ok, as the dissenting opinion here, I have to come out of the closet on this one: I LOVE valentine’s day :-) When I was a child my mom always did something little for us – we’d have a small box of Sweetheart candies in our cereal bowl at breakfast and a card with a small piece of chocolate attached to it. It is a very special memory for me, and one that I am passing along to my kids. We don’t go nuts, but we have fun with it. I think davka BECAUSE we also emphasize shalach manos on Purim, along with lots of opportunities to give (birthdays, Shabbat, etc) American holidays like Halloween and Valentine’s day don’t emphasize hollow values as much as just plain old having fun (for us, anyway). And, I’ll admit it, I’m a candy freak. Not so much chocolate, but good old candy. Any opportunity for me to stock up I’ll take :-) And my husband nailed it this year: instead of a billion dollars on flowers, he gave me a bouquet . . . of lollipop daisies :-)

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posted February 15, 2010 at 8:56 am

I really do think it has so much to do with our childhood memories. I find it’s much easier for me, even with the Jewish holidays, to make a fuss over the ones my mom made a fuss over.
I am *much* more into baked goods than candy….and if there were an ice cream holiday, I would figure out a way to celebrate it even if were a scientology holiday.

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Mama non Grata

posted February 15, 2010 at 9:22 pm

I struggled a bit, and then just let it go. Like so much I’ve had to let go at my son’s school. (Context: hardly any Jews in town…)
PS: found you via

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posted February 15, 2010 at 10:42 pm

i’m with you…we never made a fuss over it when i was a kid, and i still don’t. i think it helps that we have purim to fuss over and also a birthday right around v-day too. takes the pressure off.

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posted February 16, 2010 at 12:37 pm

Edible Torah

posted February 16, 2010 at 1:08 pm

After a particularly emphatic comment over on my blog, I just posted an item on Tu B’Av.
I still have no problem buying flowers for my wife on this particular weekend – but then again I buy her flowers EVERY week before Shabbat. The ones I got this week just happen to be red, white and pink.
But I think that, if there is a Jewish holiday that marks the same feeling, moment, or ideal we ought – as educated, engaged and involved Jewish parents – try to integrate that at least as much as we do the non-Jewish holidays.
At the very least, we should put more effort into presenting the Jewish holidays than we do in justifying why we observe the non Jewish ones, right?
– Leon

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posted February 16, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Ugh. My memories of Valentine’s Day are all of the anxiety over whether you got the “right” cards for each kid in the class, not letting them think you liked them “too much,” especially if they didn’t give you a card back. It was all a weird grammar-school popularity contest. I hate hate hate it!
And then as an older child and young adult, the weird anticipation/letdown if you had a boyfriend, or isolation if you didn’t. So, personally, I’m upset at the ways that schools promote or support the holiday, especially with the religious background (Bad Cohen likes to say that Valentine’s Day was always another good day for killing Jews).
We didn’t do ANYTHING for it this year, but the toddler came home with a bag full of those tacky cards and candy that we have to dole out or get rid of.
I mean, really, he’s 3! Who’s giving 3-year-olds candy!?
ok, done ranting.

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