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  • Writer's pictureMargaret Nelson

Valentine's Day in the United States

Every February, it seems like we’re surrounded by hearts, flowers, chocolate, and romance. Social media is inundated with pictures of happy couples, grocery stores are overflowing with heart-shaped boxes of candy and flowers, and TV commercials and internet ads try to convince you to buy this or that to show your love to those you care about.

When people think of American holidays, they typically think of big ones, like Christmas, Thanksgiving, and the Fourth of July. However, one holiday that gets little attention is Valentine’s Day. Whether you love or hate it, it’s clear that many Americans love Valentine’s day. In 2017, Americans spent over $18 billion to celebrate the holiday. That equals roughly $136 per person!

Even though Valentine’s Day is celebrated to various extents worldwide, it’s especially popular in the United States. Traditionally, it’s been a day where couples can celebrate their love for each other, whether they’re in a relationship, engaged, or married. However, many people extend this to celebrate the love in all of their relationships, such as their relationships with their children, extended family, and friends. Today, we’re going to talk about the history of Valentine’s Day, Valentine’s Day traditions, and how to celebrate this holiday.

History of Valentine’s Day

Experts are unsure of the exact origins of Valentine’s day, but there are some theories. The Catholic Church has at least three different martyrs named Valentine or Valentinus. There was also a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia, which was dedicated to Faunus (the Roman god of agriculture) and Romulus and Remus (the founders of Rome.) It wasn’t until later that the holiday became associated with romance.

This is a picture of purple tulips and a half-eaten purple macaroon.
Although experts are unsure of the origins of Valentine's Day, it's since become associated with love.

Valentine’s Day Traditions

Many Valentine’s Day traditions have come and gone over the years. Long before Hallmark commercialized the holiday, people found creative ways to show their love and affection for one another. For example:

  • In medieval times, knights would wear a token of love from their sweethearts around their arms. They would commonly wear things like colored handkerchiefs. This tradition is where the saying “wear your heart on your sleeve” comes from. Today, it means showing emotion and affection towards someone you care about.

  • In the past, people would deliver flower bouquets to one another. Each flower would have a special meaning, and the recipient would have to decode the meaning of the bouquet. For example, daffodils were a sign of good luck and happiness, and violets meant faithfulness or requited love.

  • In the 20th century, many towns hosted Valentine’s day celebrations like they would for Christmas or Halloween. High society hosted private galas with food, music, and poetry competitions. Schools hosted Valentine’s Day programs, and children would perform songs, skits, and plays, just like how kids today celebrate Christmas.

Today, there are many ways for people of all ages to celebrate this holiday:

  • Children in daycare, preschool, and elementary school (ages 0-11) often make Valentine’s Day cards during Arts and Crafts to give to their parents, grandparents, or other special adults in their lives.

  • Preschools and elementary schools often have class parties for Valentine’s Day. Before Covid, schools would shorten their school day and have a party towards the end of the day. During these parties, there would be snacks, desserts, card exchanges, and games. Before the day of the party, children would decorate a small box (typically a shoebox) to hold all of their valentines, and they would distribute valentines to their classmates.

  • Grade schools often have Val-O-Grams where you pay a small price (typically 25-50 cents) to send a paper heart with a piece of candy to another student of your choice. Students send them to their friends or their boyfriends/girlfriends (if they’re in a relationship). I’ve also seen this done with flowers, such as daisies or carnations.

  • Teenagers in relationships often exchange flowers, stuffed animals, or chocolates. They don't have much money, so they typically exchange smaller gifts. They can also exchange presents with close friends.

  • Adults often spend the holiday in different ways, depending on the nature of their relationship and how much money they have:

    • Young couples who are in new relationships often have smaller celebrations. For example, they might exchange cards or small gifts, go on a picnic, or make a special meal at home.

    • Older couples in established relationships often have bigger celebrations. Depending on how much money they have, they might go to a fancy restaurant, go on a special vacation, or exchange expensive presents (like jewelry).

    • For many couples, Valentine’s day is a romantic time to propose marriage.

This is a picture of a man and a woman hugging each other. The woman is holding a red paper heart.
Valentine's Day is considered a romantic time for couples.

How to Celebrate Valentine’s Day

Regardless of your budget and relationship status, there are plenty of ways to enjoy this holiday.

All of these are just suggestions, and you shouldn’t feel the need to do all of them. Choose which ones are best for you. The point is to show your love to those you care about. Don’t feel the need to exhaust yourself or spend a lot of money. For example:

  • If you have children, see if they’re going to have any celebrations at school. Because of Covid, schools might cancel or scale back their parties. However, if they still plan to have a Valentine’s Day card exchange, help your child prepare for it. Help them find a box to put their valentines in and provide decorating supplies, such as paper, colored pencils, markers, crayons, scissors, glue, and stickers.

    • Around Valentine’s day, many stores sell prepackaged valentines that come with a piece of candy, a sticker, or a small toy. I recommend buying these valentines to make things easier.

    • The valentines come in perforated sheets. Typically, you have to tear them, fold them, insert the candy, and close them. There’s also a space for you to write the name of the recipient and who it’s from. Many times, teachers send home a list with the names of the students in your child’s class to make this easier.

  • Consider serving something fun for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. One option is to make everyday foods heart-shaped. For example, if you normally pack a sandwich in your child’s lunch, you can use a heart-shaped cookie cutter to turn it into a heart. You can also use a turkey baster to make heart-shaped pancakes. This doesn’t have to be complicated or fancy. Think about what you typically serve and how you can make it special. If you need some inspiration, do a Google search for “Valentine’s Day Kid’s Menu” for some ideas.

  • Consider exchanging cards or presents with your loved ones. For an extra special touch, consider making handmade cards or presents. See how you can use your talents to show people you care. For example, if you enjoy writing, write poems or letters. If you enjoy painting or paper crafting, create cards. If you enjoy baking, make heart-shaped desserts. If you need some inspiration, there are a lot of free instructions online. Even if you think you’re not that creative, remember that many people prefer the uniqueness of handmade items because they came from people they love. They’re more personal than mass-produced cards and gifts.

Covid-19 and Valentine’s Day

It’s undeniable that the pandemic has impacted every aspect of our lives. People have had to cancel, reschedule, or heavily modify their events to stay safe during this trying time. At the time of this writing, it’s been almost two years since Covid-19 came to the United States and threw everything into chaos.

Just when it seemed like life might finally go back to normal, the Omicron variant was discovered. Since January, school districts have been debating whether or not to close, businesses are enduring more uncertainty than ever, and trips have been canceled yet again. With all of this uncertainty, it’s easy to get discouraged and feel like scheduling fun activities isn’t worth it.

However, for the sake of our mental health, we need to find ways to connect with people and hold meaningful celebrations. As hard as it is, we need to fight for some semblance of normalcy.

That being said, this need doesn’t give us permission to ignore the rules or endanger other people. Until the case counts get back under control, we need to be smart and do our best to keep ourselves, our loved ones, and our communities safe.

Thankfully, there are plenty of ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day during the pandemic. Here are some suggestions:

  • Carefully consider whether or not to eat indoors at a restaurant. Throughout the pandemic, eating indoors in restaurants has been considered a high-risk activity because it’s impossible to wear a mask and eat or drink at the same time. To make your decision, you and your partner should consider your vaccination status, as well as your risk for severe Covid.

    • If your risk is high and/or you’re unvaccinated, consider other options, such as takeout, getting food delivered, or having a picnic.

    • If you decide to eat at a restaurant, consider eating on a patio or going at an off-peak time. If the weather permits, eating outside can be less risky because there’s more air circulation. If you can’t eat outside, consider eating dinner earlier, when the restaurant is less crowded. The fewer people there are, the less likely you will develop Covid.

  • Consider how to adapt your current date night plans. For example, if you usually go out to dinner and a movie, you could get takeout (or make a special dinner together) and watch a movie at home.

  • If you have kids, think about how you can make the day special for them. There are plenty of recipes and activities that can be done from home. Kids don’t need a bunch of fancy toys or expensive experiences. Spending quality time will mean more to them. For example, you could make heart-shaped food for breakfast or dinner together, decorate the house, make Valentines, play outside, or play board games. Consider what your kids enjoy doing, and make an evening out of it.

  • Many schools have had to go back to remote learning due to the Omicron variant, canceling many class parties. If you’re able to do so, talk to your child’s teacher about setting up Valentine’s Day activities or a virtual party. The teacher would probably love having some help, and it’s a good way to get involved at your child’s school.

    • If a class party isn’t an option, invite a few friends for a virtual party. You could watch a movie, decorate cookies, have a scavenger hunt, and do art projects.

  • Be careful about meeting in person. If you want to meet someone outside of your household, take precautions. Make sure everyone who’s eligible is vaccinated and boosted. Wear a mask, get tested before the get-together, and keep the event small.

    • If the other participants can’t or won’t get vaccinated or get tested, the safest option would be to move the celebration online. Schedule a video chat, and if desired, plan an activity for people to do.

    • Instead of exchanging gifts and cards in person, consider shipping presents. Many companies will send flower bouquets, stuffed animals, and chocolates all over the United States. Some might even ship internationally, although I would check with the company first.

      • Due to the ongoing supply chain issues, many companies have suspended their international shipping. Other companies ship internationally, but there might be lengthy delays. If you order Valentine’s Day gifts, make sure to send them ahead of time so they make it to your recipient by February 14th.

This is a picture of a heart-shaped cookie cutter. Next to it is a sprinkling of cinnamon, and someone traced their finger in the shape of a heart.
Consider making some Valentine's Day treats this year.

Valentine’s day is a special day for many people, especially those in romantic relationships. It’s a day for people to celebrate their love for each other, whether it’s romantic or platonic. Although the pandemic has caused significant disruptions, it doesn’t need to ruin your celebration. With some patience and creativity, you can adapt old traditions and forge new ones, all while being safe.

As you shop for your Valentine’s Day gifts this year, consider making a donation via Amazon Smile! Amazon Smile is a program where you can support your favorite charity at no cost to you. Make your purchases on Amazon Smile, and 0.5% of the cost of your eligible purchases will be donated to the charity of your choice. For more information, please visit this link.

If you enjoyed learning about this part of American culture, consider taking an English class with ReDefiners World Languages! We offer online classes in English, Spanish, Arabic, and Mandarin for kids and adults. In all of our classes, you will learn how to speak the language, as well as each language’s cultural influences. For more information, please visit our website or email us at

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