Valentine's Day: No need to panic

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I don't mean to strike panic into the average male breast, but Valentine's Day is getting close.

Isn't it funny how this holiday -- which incorporates lots of pink and red, boxes of chocolate, and naked babies with arrows -- is targeted toward participation by males, who tend to panic at pink, choose beer over chocolate, and fantasize about nakedness, but not the nakedness of babies?

You can't say that Market America doesn't help them out, with weeks' worth of colorful ads beforehand laying out a shopping list ranging from the inexpensive (cute socks!) to the dear (diamonds are forever, and they take slightly less than that to pay for).

And all to celebrate a holiday with unknown origins that probably has something to do with a third century Christian martyr who was executed in Rome for refusing to deny his faith.

It's a bit of jump from the lion's den to a box of chocolate, but Valentine's has the potential to be a bright, happy day in the midst of gray winter, especially if we de-focus on the Sweets for the Sweethearts part.

When I was a child, my enduring but not endearing nickname among my schoolmates, throughout a career in one school district seeing the same 60 or so people for 12 years, was The Brain. As you can imagine, when one is labeled The Brain, one's romance life, especially among teenage boys whose thoughts do not run that high up on the human form, is dismal, and while 364 days out of the year this really was not an issue, on Feb. 14 it was driven home to me that I did not have a boyfriend whose mother would nag him into purchasing a box of cheap chocolates and a tube of strawberry/banana flavored Chapstick for his Girl.

My mother, a wise woman who indeed deserves her title of Venerable One, did to Valentine's Day what she did to all holidays and our birthdays: she turned it into an opportunity to show her family how much she loved them.

There was no set tradition: some years it was a special dinner, maybe a small gift, a card, a treasured green bill. Whatever it was, on that day when men agonize over whether chocolates send the wrong message ("Don't you know that I'm on a diet?") and choose flowers instead ("Did you not get me chocolate because you think I'm fat?"), Venerable One said "I Love You" to all of her special people, and thereby started a family tradition that I incorporate into my own nuclear circle.

As with most of our familial traditions, the day centers around a special evening meal, in house, around the table, with everyone who can be there, there. With the progeny growing up and out, there are empty chairs, so we call or e-mail one another, send cards or a little present, and think about that special person in our lives who can't be in the room with us right now. When the Norwegian Artist linked his genes with mine 28 years ago, he had no idea quite how sentimentally emotional his intellectual, analytical, brainy little bride could be, but he is now accustomed to a regular roster of red-letter events that require dropping everything and plunging into celebration:

"We paid off the land! Let's have shrimp fettuccine for dinner!"

"The College Girl is coming home for the weekend! Time for cake!

"The income taxes are done! Break out the wine!"

The best thing about celebrating around food -- European style -- is that one is doing what one has to do anyway, that is, eat, and there is no obligation to rush out to a Mart store and throw inanimate objects indiscriminately into a shopping cart in the effort to show participation in the holiday. I like to think that I have de-stressed the Norwegian Artist's life by not throwing up expectations that he read my mind and take a calculated guess as to what material item would best express my interpretation of his love for me.

Don't get me wrong. Everybody likes presents, myself decidedly included, but they are best when they are from the heart, personalized, and chosen with care by the giver for the recipient. I like to receive something that I see or use every day, so that I can be reminded of the person who gave it to me.

So this Valentine's Day, none of us in this Norwegian/Polish household will focus on boxes of chocolate, fine jewelry, pink teddy bears (the animal or the lingerie), flowers, even Bactrian camel hair yarn from inner Mongolia -- truly a sign of love for a knitter if there is one -- but rather, we will touch bases however we can and thank God for the gift we already have -- each other.

Valentine's Day is a day to tell the people you love that you love them.

Carolyn Henderson is a freelance writer who blogs at www.middleagedplague.wordpress.com. She welcomes comments and communication via e-mail at carolyn@stevehendersonfineart.com

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