Valentines Day: Sweets & Sweethearts
In the schoolroom, we preferred chocolate “kisses” to the other kind
While my elementary-school teachers made earnest efforts to de-commercialize Valentine’s Day, back-in-the-day you could only turn out so many handmade cards constructed of red paper, lace doilies, and gobs of paste. So, we kids mostly used the mass-produced items offered by greeting card companies: red valentines featuring hearts and cupids, often on punch-out sheets and sometimes accompanied by small envelopes. These, I’ve recently learned, are still available: Vintage Valentines (Press Out Book).
“So that no one’s feelings get hurt by being left out,” our teachers gave instructions that teachers still give today: “You are to give a valentine to everyone in class.” To that end, on February 14, time was set aside for juvenile postal workers to file through the classroom, making deliveries to specially prepared “mailboxes” at every desk or place. Of course, this kind of evenhandedness did not prevent the addition of handwritten notes on valentines given to special friends. Valentines also served another important purpose: The valentine, this semi-anonymous form of correspondence, allowed shy kids the opportunity to signal their “interest” in someone when they were hesitant to do so directly. Moreover, such news was eagerly awaited. Recipients counted their “secret admirers” and sometimes divined who they were.
This is the subject of Marc Brown’s wonderful picture book Arthur’s Valentine. The “Kid’s Review” of this work on Amazon.com is wonderful and poignant:
“I liked the book because I can remember the first valentine that I received from a girl. I was happy like Arthur was, but didn’t want everyone to know about it. In the story, Arthur gets a valentine from his secret admirer. He didn’t know yet who it exactly was. He gets another one from the same person. The second one says for him to meet her at the movies. If you read this story, you will find out who sent him the valentine.”
Besides cards, the other part of Valentine’s Day was candy. Grown-ups, we learned, offered boxes of chocolates to their sweethearts. But what did we know about lovers, romance, and all that other smarmy stuff? We kids made do with powdered candy and cheap sweets. And that was fine with us. We preferred chocolate “kisses” to the other kind.
Connected to this confectionary side of the holiday was the story of Raggedy Ann. Johnny Gruelle’s famous rag doll had a candy heart sewn inside of her, a Valentine Day’s candy upon which were written the words “I LOVE YOU.” That explained something. When we were young and innocent, we were also literal-minded. The Raggedy Ann books, then, were a revelation. So, this is what a “sweetheart” really was.
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