In grade school it was awesome. A couple of days before the holiday, during class art time, we would make and decorate a big manila folder sort of thing - a "mailbox" of sorts - which we'd then attach to the front of our desks with a couple of fat strips of masking tape. On the day itself, there would be pink cupcakes with red hot hearts on them that someone's mom would have brought and red kool-aid in pink plastic cups. At the appointed hour, we would commence shuffling about the classroom dropping Valentines in one another's manila folder mailboxes. The expectation was that you might give some special friends special cards/extra sugar hearts, but that nobody would be left out. If there were 25 kids in the class, you arrived with 25 Valentines to share. Once everyone had made all their "deliveries" there was the sublime pleasure of spilling all the little envelopes out onto your desk and opening each one to see what it said and who it was from. Always hoping there would be some special message on the cards from the boy(s) you thought were cute and looking for meaning in the words written on the little sugar hearts enclosed.
Valentine's Day soured for me during high school. One of the fund-raising activities at my school involved selling and sending carnations during class on Valentine's Day. To walk around without a handful of red carnations on these days meant that nobody cared enough about you to send you any flowers. Or that you had not had foresight enough to arrange with a friend to send them to each other. I didn't really date in high school. I maintained a pretty aloof posture and self-defensively considered myself too cool for all the typical school bullshit like dances and pep rallies and such. So I was one of those pitiful souls who spent the day carnation-less, and feeling pretty unloveable.
As an adult, I've reclaimed Valentine's Day. I now view it as an opportunity to celebrate love in the widest sense - not just romantic. I try to make room at the end of January to hand-make a handful or so to send to family, friends, and people I think might appreciate receiving one. It's become my favorite holiday, actually. It combines crafts and sweets, two of my most favorite things. And I like the kitschy, over-the-top aspect of it - all that pink and red, and cherubs, and lace, and nonsense. It's fun to mess with it a bit, see how exuberant and silly and extreme you can make it. This year is a bit of a repeat from last year's version - a simple heart shape cut out and sewn together on my machine. Last year I included a bit of an E.E. Cummings poem, this year it's Langston Hughes:
"I play it cool, I dig all jive,
That's the reason I stay alive.
as I live and learn,
Dig and be dug