Donna Tavano: Lovey-Dovey

A year has passed since COVID-19 reared its spiky corona head, and we have become well versed in altering our traditions in response.

Like it or not, Valentine’s Day is on the way. Many of us have unlimited time to devote to anything and everything, so even if you are a Never-Valentiner, consider embracing it this time around.

Oh, Valentine’s Day, why do we love thee, minus the hearts and love appeal? It bolsters the economy in a big-hearted $20 billion way. Candy alone counts for $2.4 billion of that, and Say It Sweetly in Harwich Port, and Candy Manor in Chatham, will do their best to satisfy our sweet tooth. In addition, 44 million households will buy Valentine gifts for furry friends. Factor in another $5.8 billion for jewelry and the millions of cards and flowers sent.

In 1967, on Valentine’s Day, Aretha Franklin recorded “Respect” and all kinds of businesses have just that for the powerful holiday. Ikea, Australia, gives free cribs to babies born in November, nine months after Valentine’s Day, and more home pregnancy tests are sold in March than in any other month. A Michigan lawyer even offers a Valentine promotion giving away free divorces. Did you know a dentist invented cotton candy? What if we are not in a relationship? We can celebrate Galentine’s Day, the product of “Parks and Recreation” TV writers, using the day to honor friends emulating the Finnish Ystavanpaiva, Friendship Day. Saudi Arabia’s Commission for Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice restricts the sale of roses and anything red on the holiday – wisely thinking ahead, as any type of sex before marriage is punishable by death or imprisonment, so, yeah, might as well avoid all that unpleasantness by avoiding any chance of love indiscretion.

Ribbons and lace are symbols shown intertwined with hearts. Ribbons were worn by knights showing their sweetheart’s devotion, and the word “lace” comes from the Latin “Laqueues” meaning snare or net, by which the heart is trapped. “Lovey-dovey” behavior stems from the doves who mate for life, with baby daddy continuing to support mom and the chicks after they have hatched. Lupercalia was the pagan festival from which the celebration probably arose. Boys ran through crowds slinging goatskin strings called “februa” at girls. If the strings touched them, the girls would be guaranteed fertility when they grew up. The expression “wearing your heart on your sleeve” stemmed from the Middle Ages when young men and women drew names and pinned them to their sleeves for a week, denoting a possible love match. The “X” and “O” we use for hugs and kisses emanated from people who couldn’t write their name and possibly from making the sign of the cross. It was also considered bad luck to sign a Valentine in Victorian times.

But we know it all comes back to the candy. At one time, the church forbade chocolate. It relented, calling it it medicinal when it was believed to cure fevers, gastro problems and depression (just like today). Pretty tasty, too.  Oliver Chase, a Boston pharmacist, invented a medical lozenge-making machine, switched to candy and founded the Necco company. In 1902, his brother, Daniel, began printing messages on the then-larger treats, like “Married in white, you have chosen right!” and “How long will I have to wait? Please be considerate.” Over time, the candies shrunk into the tiny hearts we eat today imprinted with “Hug me” or “U R Sweet,” but in keeping with the times, now say “email or Tweet me” or are personalized. Cadbury’s heart-shaped box appeared in 1868, leading to millions sold since then. The favorite in the box is caramel, followed by chocolate covered nuts, chocolate filled, cream filled and coconut. Before the Civil War, there were treats called “cockles” shaped like scallop shells, but containing paper messages.

So, what is the proper pandemic-appropriate Valentine protocol? Making cards is always welcome, with a COVID-19 twist: “I love you more than hand sanitizer and the vaccine combined.” “There is no one I would rather quaran-team with than you.” “Six feet apart, still in my heart.” If you have a partner, build a model together, plan a Valentine scavenger hunt with rhyming clues. Online, you can virtually tour museums, zoos and escape rooms. Try Random Trivia Generator and relive your pre-COVID-19 trivia nights out. Visit YouTube’s “Binging with Babish,” who recreates meals from your favorite TV shows and movies, and speaking of binging, there’s always “Bridgerton,” the new “dirty” Downton Abbey. Sign up together, or alone, for master classes, learning how to cook, sing or paint, make blonde brownies with pink M&Ms (standing for Mars and Murrie). Make cards for nursing homes and people even more alone than you. Or, if you live with someone, you could do the new COVID-19 opposite of what we used to do on Valentine’s Day and say “Honey, I love you so much I’m going to disappear for the day and leave you all by yourself.” Could be a win-win.

We certainly do live in strange times.