I’m not here to argue that Valentine’s Day is a made-up commercial holiday that exists only to remind singles how sorry they are to be alone. In fact, it’s been around for perhaps some 1500 years–WAY before Hallmark ever existed. It’s not the romantic pressure of needing a “Valentine” that bugs me, but it’s the inevitable and underestimated and underreported social pressure in our schools while growing up that left me with a heavy heart on several Valentine’s Days.
In my otherwise happy-go-lucky life as an elementary school youngster at Roaring Brook, there were three occasions that gave me anxiety: 1) sporadic lice epidemics, 2) school play auditions, and 3) Valentine’s Day. Each year, with a stern expression, my teacher decreed that if we hand out any Valentines, we must hand them to everyone in the class. We also took home letters to our parents outlining this directive.
I basically agree with the premise: Every child should have the same number of Valentines so there is no one feeling left out. However, little did I realize, an arms race would ensue as to who could come up with the biggest and best Valentine. When I realized my Hershey Kiss taped onto printer paper heart cutouts could never measure up to my classmate’s six-dollar goody bags packed with Godiva chocolates galore and custom decorated cookies, I felt embarrassed by my own creations.
While I understand and appreciate the attempt at fostering equality here, it really just permanently etches materialism into kids’ vulnerable minds and puts pressure on parents to not let their child be outdone. To avoid this issue, I suggest that teachers have children write cards in the classroom using the same art materials to work with. It’s not like they don’t get enough candy on Halloween.
In middle school, the Valentine dilemma became only slightly less daunting. Some homerooms allowed students to exchange cards, but I don’t recall it as a concern. Even so, there was a new, perhaps greater problem looming: kids started dressing up super wacky for Valentine’s Day. Instead of your average red shirt, the halls of Seven Bridges were a swarm of colorful knee socks, pink boas, tiaras, heart-shaped sunglasses and layers upon layers of beads.
While this was festive and fun, it also seriously promoted cliques. It was up to you to establish a group to match with and shop for gear together, and dressing up alone signified being a loner. At an age where cattiness is at an all-time high, you can imagine how being left out would feel. Buy $30 worth of pointless tchotchkes solely to suggest your membership in a group? Now I’d say, no way! Then I’d say it was a requirement.
Fast forward to high school. The rule established in elementary school had disappeared and turned into the opposite: Valograms. They’re a great idea, as they fundraise for the American Heart Association, but they’re also a downright popularity contest. Each year, one purchases a number of “Valogram” cards for their friends, and senior-class volunteer “Cupids” hand them out in classrooms, accompanied with a flower per Valogram. This is literally a public announcement of exactly how many friends you have.
There is no being discreet here, as there are flowers to show for it. It’s just like the scene in Mean Girls where Damien hands out candy cane grams, “FOUR for you, Glen Coco! You go Glen Coco! Cady Heron, one for you … and none for Gretchen Wieners. Bye!”
If someone you thought was your friend sends a Valogram to all of your friends but you, what’s that supposed to mean? What if you send one and don’t receive one in return? How disheartening! Can’t we just have a simple bake sale or dance or something instead? Oh, and students continue to go all-out with Valentine’s Day attire, so there’s still that hanging over your head.
Despite evidence here to the contrary, I happen to like Valentine’s Day. However, I like Valentine’s Day because it celebrates love for those you care most about, whether that is a significant other, family, or close friends. I enjoy yummy treats and teddy bears as much as the next person, but I believe the love you give and receive should not be laid bare for all of your classmates to observe.
Throughout childhood and into high school, kids are quite impressionable and vulnerable. I know I was. So, rather than make some children feel less than equal among their peers, I suggest we teach our children that love is beyond measure.
Anna Bennett graduated Greeley in 2010 and is a senior at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst.