Anne MikolayNobody really knows how Valentine’s Day began. Some believe that it originated from St. Valentine, the Roman martyr who died on February 14th, 269 A.D. Others believe that the holiday stems from the ancient Roman tradition of honoring Juno, the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses, and the Goddess of women and marriage. What is known for certain is that the Valentine greeting card industry has Miss Esther Allen-Howland to thank.

Esther Allen-Howland was born in 1828 in Massachusetts. Upon graduation from college in 1847, Esther received an English valentine. Highly impressed with its design, Esther decided to manufacture her own Valentines, imported exquisite lace and paper from England, and employed friends and family in what became a booming business. Esther’s signature cards featured a shadow box design, or bright paper beneath white lace. Americans have been giving and receiving Valentines ever since.

Valentines Day was a much bigger deal in my home when my kids were young. Each of my children received a little heart-shaped box of candy, and a special heart-shaped cake of their own, frosted to their individual taste. In return, I received assorted Valentines made of paper, doilies, macaroni, glitter, sticky glue, and lots of little-boy hugs and kisses to go with them. Fast forward several years, and the childhood thrill of crafting something special for Mommy has been replaced by a dull sigh and disinterest. Teenagers don’t stick their palms in red paint to make hand prints for you. They give you bags of tootsie rolls, or Hershey kisses that their father purchased  for just that purpose. They tell you they need not buy you a card because you aren’t their girlfriend; you’re just Mom. That was cute for a while, in a quirky sort of way, but its charm faded fast. Teenagers are old enough to think for themselves, and should plan ahead for Valentines, and all holidays. Dad shouldn’t have to buy packaged candy for their gift-giving. If teens can remember where to meet their friends, or what’s on television, why can’t they seem to remember Valentine’s Day? What does it mean when “just Mom” doesn’t receive a Valentine from her kids? Does it mean they don’t think? Or they just don’t think of Mom?

Thanks to Esther Allen-Howland, there are countless Valentine cards available for my kids to choose from. In my opinion, however, those are no better than the hand-me-down bag of tootsie rolls from their father. After-all, it’s the thought that counts. Who wants somebody else’s thoughts? No thanks, Esther. No thanks, hubby dear.

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All is not lost, however.

I jokingly asked my sixteen year old son what he was planning to give his dear old Mom for Valentine’s Day. He seemed surprised that the date was upon us. He thought for a minute, grinned, put his arm around me, and said, “A hug!”

Now that’s a thought I appreciate.

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Anne Mikolay

Anne M. Mikolay joined The Atlantic Highlands Herald as a columnist in 2008. Prior to penning “The Armchair Critic,” Anne wrote feature articles for The Monmouth Journal. Her work has appeared in national...