The Valentine's Day Dilemma

Valentine’s Day is a day for showing affection and appreciation. Yet, it tends to be quite a contentious holiday. February fourteenth tends to elicit a contrasting sense of longing or excitement, despair or disdain. Love it or not, it is clear that the holiday has become commercialized. Call it mass-produced affection, if you will.

Regardless of its origins and evolution over the centuries, Valentine’s Day presents itself to us each year as an opportunity to savor or squander. It all depends on whether we allow the “business” of this unique holiday to devolve into a “Hallmark holiday” or whether we re-make it as our own. This poses a dilemma for some of us.

Having spent thirty years in the world of hospitality, I may be partial to the celebration of Valentines. But opinions matter, so I respect an individual’s choice of how (or whether) they choose to celebrate.

Labor of Love, my kitchen team worked meticulously alongside me each Valentines’s Day.
A Valentine’s Day Survey

To get at this idea of why Valentine’s Day produces such diverse reactions, I decided to take a survey. What does Valentine’s Day mean to you? Numerous friends, relatives, neighbors and colleagues responded (to my delight), and here is what they said:

Healthcare Employee: “A perfect day to send hugs and kisses to all your loved ones.”

Designer: “Day of celebration, love, and friendship.”

Marketing Executive: “Consumerism.”

Poet: “Like any other day with a magical spark in the air, a little whisper of mystery.”

Executive Chef: “Thanks for the reminder, I will buy my wife flowers today, I like to surprise her at any time not just on Valentines.”

Office Manager: “I am single, it means nothing…”

Coach: “Join a Singles Dating App.”

Entrepreneur: “Lonesome.”

Nutritionist: “An excuse to eat good food and drink wine with friends.”

Executive Producer: “Sending surprise gifts to loved ones and bring joy to the recipient like”

Proofreader: “It wasn’t a ‘thing’ growing up in Denmark. In Scandinavia it is influenced by American culture. In Finland it is more of a ‘friendship’ day.”

Philanthropist: “We don’t go big; we express our love spontaneously throughout the year with small gifts like flowers etc. Not a big fan of Hallmark Holidays, though I do make this an excuse to make chocolate covered strawberries for my family!”

Police Officer: “Skeptic of hallmark events, commercial value, a celebration of love, first to Christ who symbolizes love which we all benefit from. The romanticizing of Valentines limits the essence of love.”

Specialty Foods: “A sweet American tradition that came to Europe. It is nice to spoil and to be spoiled by one’s partner if you have one. In my home country the day was mainly seen as commercial. But that was years ago. My husband and I like to celebrate Valentines’ more often than just once a year!”

Legal Counsellor: “Commercial, but good occasion to go out for dinner.”

Recreational Sports Instructor: “Not sure, have not celebrated this in a few years.”

Author: “Love people you love, why do we have to wait for one day in a year to show it to them?!”

Educator: “Give the kids gifts, it’s cute and my way of showing love.”

Student: “Perfect day to cherish my loved one.”

Wellness Coach: “This day of love can be a day to go within and look for love on the inside, tap into ones’ spiritual self, honor the divine, that dwells within and in all his creation.”

Insurance Provider: “It means nothing anymore, it’s for romantic fools.”

 IT Associate: “A day that you cherish your loved ones.”

Me: “Grateful that I have a special day ahead of me so I can send out my love letters to my sisters and children, facetime with my grandchildren, who never fail to bring a smile to my face and joy in my heart knowing all is well. Enjoying the company of a new friend over a cappuccino in the afternoon and toasting to our friendship. Finally, a fun evening with Sean, perhaps in a restaurant in our community so we can support and appreciate the chefs and their team for their seva.”

Farm to Table, our loyal local farmers never failed to deliver choice produce.
Diverse Views

What did I learn from the responses? Well, Valentine’s Day is not purely about romance.  Many see an opportunity to show appreciation by giving (to children, friends). Usually the giving is done as a “surprise” which raises the level of mystery and enjoyment.

For those who view it as a “romantic” holiday, Valentine’s Day  can become confining (based on whether you have a partner or not). February fourteenth serves as a reminder of one’s partnership “status”, which only adds to the pressure to doing something about it. Does romanticizing Valentine’s restrict the true spirit of affection?

Others see only the “commercial” side to the holiday, as just another occasion to be sold something. Like many holidays it can tend to be overhyped.

Making Valentine’s Day Our Own

So, if Valentine’s Day isn’t always what we feel it should be, what can be done about it? How do we make this celebration our own? Here are a few ideas:

  • Rekindle your affection for someone, by simply telling them how much they mean to you. Whether a digital or (preferably) handwritten note, what you share counts.

  • Recall your childhood and create a simple card for someone. Yes, use color pens, crayons or even paint to create your own “Hallmark” card. (And if you have children, join them in the pleasure of creating something for someone.)

  • Yes, flowers are still appropriate, even if given to a friend or family member. There is something about sharing a part of creation that acts as a blessing to others and lifts the spirit.

  • Invite a “plus one” to your Valentine’s dinner. Who do you know who might be on their own this Valentine’s?

  • Try an experiment at work or home – see how many times you can say the word “love” in a non-romantic way to your co-workers, family or friends. “Hey, I love the way you handled that project!” Or, “I love how you always keep your room clean.” This is a stretch goal admittedly, because it requires sincerity.

  • Give a little time to someone who just needs to be with other people on February fourteenth.

The whole point is that by investing a little time into some token of appreciation will have an immeasurable impact. You never know who needs a little love on Valentine’s Day!

How I Would Celebrate

In the course of my communication with the survey respondents, I found myself pondering on the team I led back in Palo Alto. How meticulously my team worked alongside me at the hospital every Valentine’s Day over the course of my seventeen year tenure. Their conscientious efforts in the preparation of the fruit of love, chocolate dipped strawberries, prepared for our healthcare community, was always an anticipated team-building thrill for them.

All of our kitchens (Patients, Executive Dining, Catering, Cafeteria) were on action mode on Valentine’s Day. Each chef would execute their design of the dipped strawberries. There were a plethora of chocolates and designs to consider: Coverture Chocolate, white, dark, milk, or bittersweet? Caramel Sauce, Buttercream Frosting or White chocolate icing? Dipped, piped, pleated, dotted or tuxedo-style?

A Sweet Endeavor, to feed the masses at the hospital.

One could not help noticing an exhibition of camaraderie. Though there were times when we were producing over a few thousand pieces of softly ripe, luscious fresh dipped strawberries.

Although we had faith in our loyal vendors, it was always nerve wrecking waiting to make sure procurement would receive all our orders for the scarlet and succulent long-stemmed fruit on time for the next day’s prep. We supported the local farmers to secure choice organic harvest for this celebration and we were never disappointed.

My delight was plating the succulent sweet and bright well-dressed red berries on large white or black platters, as appropriate to each event.

Expressing Appreciation

The communication of love and appreciation delivered by means of big smiles, cheers, and applause, received from each space, conjure up fond memories. But the most precious ones are when I was able to save the smaller juicy fruit that was spared from the fluff of dipping, for the little ones!

This is why I am so fond of Valentine’s day. It needn’t be a dilemma, if we find our own way of celebrating it.

I love and appreciate your support! Happy Valentine’s Day!

What are some of your fondest memories of Valentine’s Day?

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