Some people will jump for a ceremonial meal on the flimsiest pretext -- a lunar eclipse, Donald Duck's birthday, the anniversary of the Mt. St. Helens eruption.

But when the occasion is Valentine's Day and your name happens to be Valentine and your birthday also happens to fall on Feb. 14, then you don't have to stretch at all to justify a feast.

That's what's happening tomorrow at the Washington home of Valena Valentine. She turns 25 and in keeping with family tradition will become the object of loving attention with a house full of her favorite friends and a table groaning with her favorite meal -- spaghetti.

That's right. Pragmatic spaghetti. No cute little romantic Valentine's Day puns here, no passion fruit, no hearts of artichoke, although the family is preparing a red velvet cake in honor of the day's color, along with red candles, red napkins and white lace over a red tablecloth.

But -- surprise -- the spaghetti will not be red. It will be smothered in a creamy sauce with meatballs, a concoction of a Louisiana friend of the family.

The Valentine tradition of a home-cooked meal on Feb. 14 appears to buck the statistics on dining out for ceremonial occasions. A 1987 National Restaurant Association-Gallup survey showed that Valentine's Day ranked as the third most popular occasion for dining out after Mother's Day and one's own birthday.

The Valentines' observance of Feb. 14 goes back well before Valena was born, back to when her parents -- former Baltimore Oriole and Washington Senator Fred Valentine and Helena Valentine, a family counseling director -- were first married 32 years ago.

"We've always celebrated Valentine's Day," says Helena Valentine, "even before we had children ... my family always made a lot out of holidays."

But when Valena was born on Feb. 14, 1966, she said, "that gave us a double reason" to celebrate Valentine's Day.

Valena, currently training to become a school teacher here, says people are stunned when they learn she was born on her namesake's day. " 'Are you sure that's your last name?' they always ask me," she said.

Valena is the youngest of three children in the Valentine family. She was preceded by a sister, Valca, 29, now a reporter for the Charlotte Observer, and a brother, Fred Jr., 28, a U.S. Air Force captain stationed in Los Angeles.

For tomorrow's celebration, the family is hoping Valca will be able to come up from North Carolina. In addition to immediate family, there will be a dozen or so old friends to rally round, and "if he can get off early," says Valena, "my boyfriend," Mark Collins, who usually works late at the Federal Communications Commission.

Fred Valentine Sr., who played in the outfield for the Orioles and the Senators between 1959 and 1968 and is now community relations director for the George Hyman Construction Co., says the family "tries to make as big a day out of Valentine's Day as we can ... It's unique."

His own romance with Helena Valentine goes back to 1958 when he was playing for an Orioles farm team in Wilson, N.C., Helena's home town, and the two met at the Stop Light Grill.

"My father was very strict," said Helena Valentine. "He told me never to bring soldiers home {from a nearby military base}, and he didn't like baseball players much, either ... but both my father and my mother came to love him very much."

As for this year's Valentine's Day celebration, the spaghetti will be accompanied by tomato soup, garlic bread sprinkled with paprika, and salad. The ground beef and turkey meatballs for the spaghetti will be spiced up with assorted Cajun seasonings and boiled in a beef broth formula developed by Ric Gourrier, a Louisiana-born cook and brother at St. Luke's Roman Catholic Church in Southeast Washington where Helena Valentine works.

Sauce for the meatballs, according to Gourrier's recipe, is a blend of mushroom soup, nutmeg, heavy cream, beef bouillon, sour cream and chopped onions.

Despite the heavy Louisiana influence, Gourrier, known better as Brother Ric, describes his meatball sauce as "Norwegian." He said this is because the sauce includes nutmeg and cream and the meatballs are boiled in beef stock "Norwegian-style."

The reporter, whose byline heads this article, covers fires, crime and other disasters for The Washington Post. He does not write about food, except one day a year.