anne_mikolay_2012_120Exactly who first transformed February 14th, a simple date on the calendar, into a sentimental yardstick by which we measure the depth of a relationship? You might think it was a Hallmark executive, but Valentine tomfoolery predates greeting cards. In the “olden days” in Wales, for example, carved wooden “love spoons” decorated with hearts, keys, and keyholes conveying the obvious message, “you unlock my heart,” were given as gifts on February 14th. In the Middle Ages, young men and women chose their Valentine by drawing names from a bowl and displaying that name on their sleeves, thus “wearing their hearts on their sleeve.” In some countries, women received gifts of clothing on Valentine's Day from their beaus; keeping the items was an agreement to marry. Clearly, Valentine's Day has a long-standing history of lousy Valentine gifts.

A random inquiry regarding disappointing Valentines turned up a crock pot (perhaps the recipient was expected to brew up a romantic dinner), a curling iron (what was the message there?), a bowl of fruit (pre-dates Edible Arrangements), and a box of donuts, no doubt purchased on a last minute run to 7-11. All of these recipients probably wished for a heart-shaped box of candy (the giant ones, not the samplers) or a dozen roses (from a florist, not the supermarket). The average woman will likely never be whisked away on a private jet for a romantic weekend or receive diamonds on February 14th, but are crock pots and bruised fruit all she can hope for? While romance blooms fancifully on television, and we are bombarded with the lifestyles of the rich and famous, the reality of Valentine's Day is often disappointing.

I will allow my good friend, Lynn, to put things into perspective.

During the many years Lynn and her husband were married, he never gave her a traditional Valentine's gift. Instead, he hid hand-crafted Victorian Valentines all over the house for her. Admittedly, Lynn sometimes longed for a “real” gift, but experience and loss (her husband recently passed away) have now taught her that she had the “real” gift all along. Her husband took the time and effort to think outside the heart-shaped box and uniquely express his love for her. This February 14th will be the first Valentine's Day in 23 years that Lynn will not receive mini-love letters from her husband. Believe me, her broken heart casts new light on all “bad” Valentine's gifts.

This February 14th, whether you receive a traditional gift or the avant-garde, be thankful you are remembered at all. It really is the thought that counts.

Correction: I was in error last week when I stated weather-predicting groundhog, Wiarton Willie, is from Ottawa. Willie's good friend, Paul, emailed me to let me know Willie is from...where else? Wiarton, Ontario “on the beautiful Bruce Peninsula.” Good old Willie failed to see his shadow last week and foretold early spring, while Pennsylvania's Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow and predicted extended winter. Sorry for my error, Willie! And thank you, Paul, for correcting me!