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What's the Story with Valentine's Day?

Whether it's teling the story of ancient Rome or playing a family game meant to spread the love, these Valentine's Day roots and traditions can help you create lasting family memories for love's big day.

OK parents, let’s think Valentine’s Day. Are you mentally taking a headcount of your child’s class, wondering how many cards, cupcakes, [fill in the blanks], you guys will need to come up with? I feel you.

We do homemade valentines in my daughter’s kindergarten class, but this is a loose term. For some, a Valentine is a rock that may or may not have a bit of paint on it. Some of the more craft crazy families may go all out and sew some felt hearts on strings. Truly, whatever the hand-chosen piece, I find these little treasures one of the best parts of her school year.

This time, we’re painting big broad rubber tree leaves in order to make hearts with the butterfly method (paint one side of the heart on half the leaf and fold, then unfold to reveal the full shape).

As we worked on our valentines, mom and daughter organically entertained different thoughts:

Me: 'How can I best illuminate what we’re doing, and why, to enhance this holiday experience for my child?'

Her: 'Wow, heaping a bunch of glitter paint on the stem looks so pretty, I’m going to work on this one leaf forever. This is fun!'

I probably would have enhanced her experience more by shutting up then and letting her be in the moment. But I couldn’t let that happen. No, I had to bumble my way through and explanation of Valentine’s Day that included at least one execution and an description of why arrows hurt so much coming out of the skin.

It was great. Yet another conversation I wished I’d either thought about in advance or just plain skipped. Here are some of the actual facts behind the holiday, in case you want to think about this one more than I did:

•Like most modern holidays, a day celebrating love this time of the year traces its roots back to Pagan traditions. The Roman festival known as Lupercalia, one of the longest-lasting of all Roman holidays, happened every February 15. It honored the goddess of women and marriage, Juno, as well as Pan, the lascivious god of nature.

• The story of Cupid also comes from Roman mythology. He was the son of Aphrodite who was the goddess of love. Cupid is often said to be a mischievous boy who goes around wounding both gods and humans with his arrows, causing them to fall in love.

•The Christian roots of the holiday center on the story of Saint Valentine. He was linked to a romantic narrative in the Middle Ages in a work called the Acta. But he is probably an amalgam of at least two Valentines who lived during in the early A.D. era of the Roman Empire.

•The most accepted lore is that St. Valentine was a priest who refused to uphold a law enacted by Roman Emperor Claudius II. The law ordered young men to remain single because the Emperor believed that married men did not make for good soldiers and he wanted a bigger army. But the priest Valentine believed in love and he secretly performed marriages behind the Emperor’s back. When Claudius found out about this, he had Valentine arrested, thrown in jail, and possibly killed.

•Another legend is it that Valentine was an imprisoned man who fell in love with his jailor's daughter. Before he was put to death he sent the first 'valentine' himself when he wrote her a letter and signed it 'Your Valentine.'

Telling a story every year on a holiday is a great family tradition to commemorate the day. If the story of St. Valentine is too gruesome for your small kids, or if you’d just like to focus more on the concept of love itself, you may choose to tell a different story about love: falling in love, the power of love, or perhaps the story of how you and your mate fell in love before having kids.

Other ways to celebrate the day include watching a movie about love, making cards together, or crafting a family poem where everyone takes turns creating one line. You can also play a game that tells what each person in the family loves about each of the other family members. These thoughts are written out and put in a basket or a small box that is owned by each person. Family members take turns reading aloud what has been written about them.

Whatever your family does this year to celebrate the day, some clear intention is sure to help craft lasting memories. As far as I’m concerned, simply by setting love as the premise — OK, and a little bit of forethought — you can’t go wrong.

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