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Sweet Thoughts

© Photographer: Simone Van Den Berg | Agency: Dreamstime.com

When I told my daughter who’s 6 (correction, 6½) that I was working on a story about traditions people have for Valentine’s Day, she said that was easy. “You wake up on Valentine’s Day, go to the dining room, and there’s your candy on the table!”

Such is life with a chocoholic (that’s me). But I was sure other people—ones who don’t have chocolates available all the time—had more creative practices and I set out to find them.

I started with the most creative person I know. Valerie Waite of Fulton can turn any day into a holiday with handmade decorations. For Valentine’s Day about four years ago, she found a metal mailbox at a crafts store and painted it. She and her daughter Elissa, 7, added ribbons to make it the family’s Valentine’s Box.

Before Valentine’s Day each year, they make their own valentines for each family member and place the cards in the box. On Feb. 14, they open the box and distribute the valentines. She’d do more to prepare for Valentine’s Day, but she’s busy getting ready for Elissa’s birthday on Feb. 25.

Valentines also can be mailed at the post office, of course. And another friend drops off a bundle of valentines at a nursing home; she wants to make sure each person receives a special note on the day of love.

Christine Courtade Hirsch of Oswego remembers baking a heart-shaped cake with her daughters when they were younger. She’d put half the cake batter in an 8-by-8-inch square pan and the other half in an 8-inch diameter round pan. When they were done, she’d turn the square cake with one corner on top to resemble a diamond. Then she’d cut the round cake into two halves. Each half goes on one top side of the diamond, “like Mickey Mouse ears,” she notes. And voila, “it becomes a big valentine,” plus a geometry lesson.

The frosting usually was white with candy hearts on top; sometimes coconut was added on the sides, and her daughters enjoyed writing the message in “squiggly” icing letters. Use frosting to hold together the large sections of the heart cake.
With her first grandchild on the way, Hirsch says she’ll probably put off the geometric cake production for a few years. Instead, “I’ll probably just buy a heart-shaped pan.”

For Jessica Reeher, of Liverpool, her family’s Valentine’s Day tradition took place in the dining room, too. Her father brought home a dozen, long-stemmed red roses for her mother, who had prepared a fancy dinner. On each of the two daughters’ plates was a heart-shaped box of candy. The family of four ate by candlelight.

Now that the two girls are grown, they will continue the tradition this year with the first grandchild, Maria, 8 months. Of course, they’ll probably fight over her candy.

Another person encourages making the month of February all about love or kindness. Every time a family member does or says something nice or kind to someone, a parent puts 25 cents in the Valentine’s Day jar. On the 14th, they use the money to buy a pizza dinner. The more change, the more toppings or slices.

Despite my daughter’s recollection of Valentine’s Day, we do have another tradition that my kids beg for at nearly every holiday: The Clue Hunt. My sister began this when we were preteens. She made up 10 clues for each member of the family (a total of 60 clues at that time!). The hunt designer distributes the first clue to each person. The answer to each clue is the spot in the house where the next clue can be found. All 10 clues must be returned to prove one worthy of receiving the treasure or treats at the end of the hunt.

Family members dash around the house; I like to send my siblings from upstairs to downstairs on every other clue. I let grandparents stay on one floor. The best part is making connections between each person and a place in the home.

For instance, one clue might read: “Mom needs this to start her day.” Answer: The coffee pot (where the next clue will be found). Another example: “There’s no football on weekends without this.” Dad will first run to the TV, then look for the remote where the next clue will be taped. Or “Don’t forget to put this in Grandpa’s coffee.” Answer: sugar, with the clue sticking out from under the sugar bowl.

Whatever the tradition, Christine Hirsch reminds me, Valentine’s Day is about love. Not necessarily romantic love, but love for one another. That’s the tradition we want to hand down to our kids.

© Family Times: The Parenting Guide of Central New York