School Valentine parties get to heart of matter

Lately, I’m feeling nostalgic, and it happens every time around Valentine’s Day. This traditional romantic holiday, which dates back to third-century Rome and is named after the Christian martyr Valentine, is not the reason for my sentiment. Rather I’m reminiscent of when I was in elementary school (before disco became popular) and I decorated a Stride Rite shoebox to collect all my valentines.

There were no holographic stickers, washable markers, and glittery gel pens in those days. To make my box pretty, I used red construction paper, pink hearts, and white paper doilies that I stole out of my mother’s dining room hutch. I drew my name with a crayon, slit an opening in the cardboard lid, and, voila, created a work of art that cost my parents nothing more than a bit of aggravation over Elmer’s glue on the kitchen table.

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Back then, Valentine’s Day school parties were a special treat. Everyone got a token of affection, even the misfits who got picked on at recess.

In the public school districts, for the most part, nobody paid attention to any religious aspect of St. Valentine’s Day. Likewise, candy conversation hearts that read “Kiss Me!” and “Be Mine!” were never, ever, misconstrued as sexual harassment, not even by goofy pubescent fifth graders. The worst that happened is we bit down on the hard-as-rock, pastel-colored confectionery, and the sugary mess stuck in our molars for days.

Then again, our world was different. We weren’t living in a society with such fervent religious diversity, blatant sexuality and political correctness. Over the last couple of years, depending on the decision of the individual principals, many of the rules have changed when it comes to school holiday celebrations, and Valentine’s Day is no exception. At my daughter’s school in Rockwood, for example, the theme of love and sweets has been replaced with friendship and cardiovascular awareness.

As a room mom, I should’ve seen this one coming. After all, our children no longer are allowed to dress like ghosts and clowns and parade in the hallways on Halloween. Instead, they celebrate the fall season with leaf-shaped sugar cookies and pumpkin bingo. Same with the winter parties, there’s no discussion of Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza. It’s all about snowflakes and ice fishing.

And now Valentine’s Day has been erased from the curriculum. To play it smart and safe, many local public and private schools take advantage of the month of February to teach a lesson on health and community involvement. They promote activities like Jump Rope For Heart, which is a national educational fund-raising program sponsored by the American Heart Association. While students engage in the physical benefits of jumping rope, they also collect money from family and friends to support lifesaving heart and stroke research. With more than nine million overweight children in the United States, the new emphasis on fitness makes sense.

In addition, Jewish schools are following the same trend at Valentine’s Day, focusing on the heart of the matter. Then again, Jewish education has a culture all its own. At the Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy in Creve Coeur, students don’t exchange valentines or necessarily wear red clothing for Valentine’s Day, but they don’t ignore the holiday either.

“We talk so much about integration of Judaism into science, math, social studies, and literacy, but there are places in our culture that don’t meet up, so we have interaction instead of integration,” explains Cheryl Mayaan, head of the school. “Valentine’s Day doesn’t really jibe with Jewish traditions so to spend time on it is not our goal, but we don’t oppose the holiday either.”

What they spend time on is meaningful fun.

“If we take time out of our academic program we want to make sure that every minute is used to create a significant experience for the kids,” says Mayaan. “Raising money for the American Heart Association and building the students’ own endurance through jump rope games like double dutch are both meaningful activities.”

For many of us, the best part about having Valentine’s Day on the calendar is another excuse to eat chocolate, and, of course, say, “I love you.”

“Mishegas of Motherhood” is the creation of Ellie S. Grossman, a St. Louis freelance writer and stay-at-home-mom who never stays home. Currently she is stashing chocolate in a secret hiding place. Visit her website at