Saturday, February 12, 2011

The St. Valentine's Day Stick-Up

Valentine's Day looms, and each year I consider the occasion with decidedly mixed feelings. Childhood memories of lace hearts and decorated paper bags filled with dime-store cards are as sweet as candy hearts. Valentine's Day then was pure fun. Everybody got cards, from the most popular girl to the most misfit boy, and the sentiments—"Be Mine!" "You're the Greatest, Valentine!"—meant nothing. Nothing at all. Why this was such a treat I cannot explain. It was a childish delight.

Then there were the awkward years. Valentine's Day became the culmination of a fortnight or more of anxiety. Would Cupid smile and shoot and field-dress a date for the big day? Or, if there was a steady date on the scene, would he stay steady until after V-Day or evaporate before having to invest in flowers? And just what was the proper gesture from the female for the occasion? A card? Did Hallmark have a card expressing the sentiment, in rhyme, "I'm so glad you're around because I didn't want to be the only girl in the dorm who didn't get flowers, but really I don't know if I have anything to say to you"?

Of course, now Valentine's Day brings on other quandaries, such as "Do I postpone the after-Christmas diet until March so I can indulge in Valentine chocolates?" or "Do I buy the chocolates for Valentine's Day, or wait to get them on sale?"

Mostly my feelings are of sympathy for the poor men I see crowding the card and candy aisles on Feb. 13, or their more desperate brothers, grabbing up bouquets of whatever flowers are left on the day itself. Anything, apparently, is better than going home empty-handed.

Maybe true love means ignoring Valentine's Day, our annual celebration of hearts-and-flowers extortion. It's all over-the-top and, ultimately, silly. Except for the chocolate. Come to think of it, Valentine's Day is an important part of our national retail cycle, banishing the winter blues and giving business a lift after the tightened belts of January.

No, our noble candymakers must not suffer. Viva Valentine's Day, and bring out the chocolate.

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