HERE comes Valentine's Day. Another one of those holidays that seems to have been created for young, single adults, but for which we parents have to answer questions and comments like:
Is there a Valentine's Fairy (i.e., do we get presents for Valentine's Day)?
Can you provide a Valentine's treat for the preschool (i.e., would you please send in 52 heartshaped cupcakes made without sugar or eggs for those children who are allergic)?
Here is a class list for the second grade (i.e., send a valentine in for each one).
Damien gets candy hearts in his lunchbox every day in February (i.e., I want them, too).
In an effort to get away from the present-buying, candy-eating thing, we had a family discussion of the meaning and celebration of Valentine's Day.
"The purpose of the holiday," I pointed out, "is to express love and friendship. The holiday was named after one of several Saint Valentines around the fifth century."
"Were the saints loved?" asked Adam.
"Well, actually they were executed by the Emperor Claudius," I said. "The pope who named the holiday hundreds of years later named it after a saint because he wanted it to be a religious celebration, but the Roman people wanted it to be a holiday of love."
"When did cards and cupcakes come into it?" asked the kids.
"And taking people out to dinner when it isn't even their birthday?" chimed in my husband.
"Well, dinner out is fairly recent," I explained. "It was voted in by the Federation of Housewives Local 10 in 1968. Cupcakes were brought in by the National Association of Preschool Aides. But cards go way back.
"Legend says that one of the Saint Valentines could pick violets through his jail window, write messages on the leaves and give them to the birds to deliver," I said, quoting from Valentine's Day by Joyce Kessel, (Carolrhoda Books, 1981).
According to Kessel, I said, "Another legend is that the first valentines were sent in 1415 during a war between England and France when Charles, Duke of Orleans, was locked in the Tower of London. He missed his wife very much so he sent love poems to her.
"By the year 1600, many people were writing poems and sending cards. By the 1800s, cards were made by machines, so it was possible to just buy the card and the verse," I said.
"It's gotten sort of impersonal," my husband said.
"That's why we added dinner out."
"What were the first cards like?" asked Adam.
"At one time they were very fancy, made of silver and shells and ribbons and lace," I said, still quoting my source. "The word 'lace' comes from a Latin word that means 'to catch.' Lace was supposed to catch the heart of a loved one. Ribbons went back to the days of the knights when ladies gave them their ribbons to wear to war. Valentines have always had hearts and cupids on them."
"What's a cupid?" Ben asked.
"A little angel with a bow and arrow."
"Neat," he said.
"Cupid shoots the arrow to make a boy fall in love with a girl," I said.
"Yuck," said Adam.
After our historical discussion, we went to the store to buy valentines to send our friends and relatives and the 57 collective classmates on our lists.
"I don't want Snoopy on my cards," pouted Emily. "I want Cupid."
"Yeah," said Adam. "I want to make a card with silver."
A least we had gotten off the subject of presents.THE HOMEMADE TOUCH
Here are some ideas for do-it-yourself cards. If you can't make 57 homemade cards, you could supplement the supply with store-bought Snoopy and Garfield. One hint: Unless your children write much better than do those who live with me, I suggest the following message for all: "Be Mine." ELEPHANT HEART -- Cut two hearts 3 to 4 inches high out of pink construction paper. Paste them together at the tips, with the first heart as the elephant's face and the second heart, upside down to make the body. Cut two smaller hearts (about 2-inches long) and paste to either side of the head for the ears and two tiny hearts out of red construction paper for the eyes. The trunk is a 5-inch by 1/2-inch rectangle of pink paper glued on to the middle. Curl the trunk by rolling it around a pencil. (This is one you could do as a high-volume, mass-produced project.) CATERPILLAR -- Cut one 3-inch heart out of pink construction paper for the face (draw on eyes and a mouth with a red marker) and four red hearts the same size for the body. Paste the face to the first body segment and paste the other red hearts together to complete the body. Two-inch black rectangular legs (two affixed to each body segment) and two red rectangles for antennae complete the caterpillar. LION -- Same as elephant for face and body, but cut the body hearts out of red. Using pink construction paper make small hearts (less than one-inch) for eyes and mouth, then cut seven white hearts (1 1/2-inch) and arrange them around the top of head for the mane. This one could say "I'd be lion if I didn't say I like you." Or, "You're my mane girl." or "Happy Valentine's Day." Or, as mine will, "from Emily." PRINT VALENTINE -- (from Things to Make and Do for Valentine's Day by Tomie de Paola (Franklin Watts, 1976). Items you need: sheets of newspaper, a flat piece of hard Styrofoam, scissors, pencil, tracing paper, poster paint, sponge, scrap paper, rolling pin, white construction paper.
Put newspaper on your worktable to keep it clean. Cut the Styrofoam any shape, but not bigger than the cards you're going to print. Draw a picture on the Styrofoam, pressing hard with the pencil (i.e. a heart, cupid, flower, dinosaur). Sponge paint over the top of your drawing and "print" it on a piece of scrap paper to determine how much paint you need to get a clear print. Roll over it with the rolling pin.
Fold or cut the construction paper into cards, then print as many cards as you want. Each card needs fresh paint. Let the cards dry. You can make several prints in different colors, but let each dry before adding another. Write the message inside. SCANDINAVIAN HEART -- Cut two fairly large, fat, half hearts (6-8 inches tall), one pink and one red, just the same size out of construction paper. On a slight diagonal, starting from what would be the centerline of the heart, cut slits, about a half-inch apart. Weave the two halves together to make a thinner heart with a checkerboard design in the center. It will look like a Scandinavian wheat weaving. Glue down the ends so it will stay in this position. To finish, glue the whole thing to a large doily. MACARONI HEART -- Cut a fairly sturdy piece of cardboard out of any box (cereal, shoe, carton, etc.) in a heart shape and glue various shapes of macaroni onto it. Spray the whole thing (outside or on a carefully covered worktable) with red spray paint. Let dry, then glue heart to a white doily. Message can go on the back. This card is shiny and stunning and can be hung by a ribbon in your window or from kitchen cabinets (if mother's the lucky recipient of the valentine.) PINPRICK VALENTINE -- (from Valentine's Day by Fern G. Brown, Franklin Watts, 1983). Materials you need: a piece of white typing paper, a picture of a large bird cut from a magazine or drawn by yourself, tracing paper, pencil, pen, crayons, pins and needles of different thicknesses.
Draw or trace the picture of the bird a bit above the center of the paper. Leave room for a verse or message at the bottom and a margin of at least an inch at top and sides. Draw trees or houses for background and color with crayons. Start with thickest needle or pin and poke holes to outline the bird's body. Then do another row inside that row with the next size pin or needle.
Continue this, alternating sizes of pins until you've finished the picture. Make a pinprick border around the entire valentine in the same manner, alternating rows of thick and thin pins. Write a verse at the bottom, perhaps (if you've been careless with the pins): "My finger bleeds for you". PAPER SPRING VALENTINE -- (from Valentine's Day). Items you need: red or pink construction paper, crayons or markers, a 4-by-4-inch picture cut from an old magazine or last year's valentines, small pictures of hearts, birds, cupids or dinosaurs, white paper doilies.
Place construction paper in a horizontal position. Paste a picture from magazine or greeting card in the center or draw and color your own. Draw a 1/2-inch border around the picture and color it. Cut paper doilies into 1/4-inch strips. Paste them around the inside of the border.
To make the paper springs, fold a piece of unlined writing paper (or typing paper) lengthwise. Fold it alternately backward and forward three times. Cut the paper in 1/2-inch pieces. Paste one end of each paper spring in the spaces between the picture in the center and the lace border. On the other end of each spring, paste a strip of plain flat paper. On these strips paste small flowers, birds, cupids hearts or whatever. The strips form a pretty stand-out frame around the picture and the paper springs let the valentine be folded flat. Write the message wherever you have any room left.
Ann Yost last wrote for Weekend about creating your own Christmas traditions.