Why I Love My Totally Unromantic Valentine's Day Tradition
On our very first Valentine's Day together, my boyfriend at the time and I made dinner in the restaurant for the restaurant we could not afford. The pressure was intense for two young lovebirds to make this day romantic, and nothing says "I love you" like being sardined between two equally googly-eyed strangers. There's more, I'm a bit embarrassed to say: I made with my own two hands. I was never very clever on the sewing machine and did not have the cash for great material, so it was thin and flimsy. But I was festive. We also bought each other gifts. I do not remember what each was, but I'm sure it was what you're supposed to buy your significant other for this holiday. Something from a Kay Jewelers or a masculine-scented bottle of cologne. And there were chocolates.
As two college kids, our expectations were tremendous, and we ended the holiday deflated-but acting like it was momentous.
I’ve always liked Valentine's Day and use it as an excuse to celebrate love—not just the romantic kind. While growing up, my mom always made Valentine's Day a happy holiday for us. She loved decorating the house with simple heart designs (and still does), and would give us a Valentine’s basket in the morning. One year, I received a bottle of Neutrogena Body Oil and felt like a very wealthy grown woman. When I became an actual grown woman and my dad was single, I made him a Valentine’s basket and dropped it on his door before heading to work.
Fast forward a million years and the then-boyfriend actually married the girl who made the hideous Valentine's Day–themed dress. A couple years later, we’d start a new V Day tradition that we carry forth, in slightly altered form, to this day.
It was 12 years ago. I was on a work trip in New York City, and he joined me to celebrate his birthday and Valentine's Day. He landed late, due to a heavy snowstorm, on Valentine’s night, foiling all plans for our fancy dinner. Instead, we trekked through the thigh-high snow to a small Italian place—void of all romance—and sat down to what would turn out to be the most memorable dinner we’d ever had.
into a cozy environment, the food was simple, and there wasn’t an ounce of expectation. We moved to the same neighborhood a few years later and made that “our spot” for Valentine's Day. I began to look forward to this holiday, and the dinner that would come with it.
We’ve since moved to New Orleans and we took our time in finding the perfect Valentine's Day spot in our new city. The requirements are strict: It must be walkable so that the elements do not impede our plans. It must be cheap; an expensive dinner on Valentine's Day doesn’t feel romantic. And it must be a little bit kooky—maybe a place one wouldn’t think to go for this holiday, making it easy to saunter in and grab a table. We landed on a Chinese restaurant that is perfect.
For the past three years, we’ve spent Valentine’s night at Jung’s Golden Dragon II. We order a plate of fried crab rangoon, General Tso’s Chicken, and Mapo Tofu. We drink cheesy tropical beverages from the Tiki menu (piña colada for me and a fog cutter for the mister), complete with umbrellas, and get fortune cookies for dessert. The owner will read our palm, promising love and good fortune for the year to come.
For us, it's about tradition, which has become an important part of the holidays in our marriage. We may only be a family of two, but it feels important to create these memories- and it anchors us in a life. Christmas is a splurgy at-home dinner, where we write silly names on each other's gifts and watch It's a Wonderful Life. Halloween is chili and Charlie Brown. We make what were once our dads’ specialty dishes on Father’s Day, and now Valentine's Day is Chinese food at a divey restaurant. I make my husband a Valentine's Day basket, like my mom did for me. Previous year’s versions have been lovingly curated with items ranging from his favorite candy to a tall boy of PBR.
Sure, it’s a made-up Hallmark holiday, but I like celebrating love since we’ve found a tradition that feels romantic—even if it’s not the textbook definition. I also like celebrating non-romantic love on this holiday: a mother giving her kids a gift or baked goods, or making your dad a basket so that a single middle-aged man feels special. It can be giving your BFF a Warrant “Cherry Pie” cassette single, which my own bestie did for me on Valentine's Day in grammar school and we’re still best friends to this very day. As long as I’m not sausaged into a flimsy homemade dress in an overpriced restaurant—I totally love this holiday and my unromantic tradition.