A normal winter morning. I was probably supposed to be sweeping the kitchen floor or doing my math at the table, but I paused when a flash of red caught the corner of my eye.
Posted on our family fridge was a fancy invitation:
With sheer joy, I called my sisters to come see this.
I still remember this night almost 16 years ago — a special evening with my parents and sisters. Fiddler on the Roof is still one of my favorite musicals.
This tradition has morphed over the years into an annual party — the highlight of February.
I’ve only missed one since then (and it was because I was away at college). This Sunday there will be 15 (including spouses and grandparents who drive four hours for the February festivities) gathering at my parents’ house for the Valentine Dinner Theater.
Wait, isn’t Valentine’s just for couples? NO. It’s for sisters, and friends, and widows and little brothers. We are each loved by our Creator and He desires us to love one another. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (I John 4:7) My little brother has kept a Valentine from his big sister on his desk for the past three years! I suppose it reminds him that he is loved.
Cynicism about the commercialism and the sappy romance expectations and perhaps the reminder of heartbreak can lead to leeriness………but……………….well, at the house I grew up in, we took it as an excuse to have a glittery party.
Last week I asked my mother where the idea for the Valentine dinner theater originated. I mean, this was back before Pinterest.
She said that she had fond childhood memories of decorating shoe boxes and every child bringing their own Valentine mailbox to school. She desired her dear home-educated children to have an outlet for crafts and companionship on this holiday, and the tradition was born.
This is the layout of our evening: we show up with cheerful faces, maybe reddish shades of clothes, and little gifts and cards for each other. (My mom sets up a craft station weeks ahead of time, and you can work on Valentines instead of watching the Superbowl if you want!)
First things first, as soon as we arrive, each person delivers the heart-shaped goods to the appropriate place setting. They can be as simple as your leftover Christmas candy or as elaborate as a mug or new pair of socks. Then, while the food is prepared, we hang out and talk and circle the table to write our words of affirmation on everyone’s name acrostic. Then we fill our plates with sandwich melts, au jus sauce, tater tots and maybe grapes. We head to the home theater, decorated with dim heart-shaped lights and picnic blankets on the floor for the little people. There will be an intermission for dessert. After the film, we all give our opinion on it (we never please everyone), hang out some more, and then gather our treasures to take home or to take upstairs.
Probably the sweetest part (despite all the candy) is the fun of coming up with ways to capture our people’s attributes. For example, “L -oving, U -ndivided, K -ind, E -nthusiastic.” (They get a lot more creative than that).
You can have a Valentine Dinner Theater, too! But, there’s lots of room to adapt. The heart of it is just to love your people well.
Mix and match to make your own tradition. Remember:
It doesn’t have to be 100% attended. I’m pretty sure my mom didn’t intend that her kids would still want to come to the dinner theater even after we were married — but we do! I chuckled when I heard my married sister ask her a few weeks ago, “So what movie are we watching this year, Mom?” It’s all about the invitation, not the obligation … but shhhh, we wouldn’t miss it for the world.
Your Valentine party doesn’t have to be February 14th. It doesn’t have to be on The Day. It can be whenever suits the schedule. You might find that the 14th is the perfect day though, because the parents/couples can go have a romantic date a different night and skip the crowds.
Your Valentine party doesn’t have to be a movie. For our family, gathering to enjoy an on-the-screen story together was a rare occasion. Eating in front of the screen, now that was really a novelty. It truly was a “dinner theater” experience. But you could do a game night, a treasure hunt, or a fancier dinner than melts and tater tots.
Your Valentine party doesn’t have to be sugary. But it’s way more fun if it is. Our friends introduced us to the Magic Flan Cake. We make it almost every year (and by WE I don’t mean me — my sister the great baker has graced us with her talent and time). Somehow the layers of the Magic Flan cake flip in the oven while baking. Don’t ask me to explain the science, but it is custard, caramel, chocolate, and deliciousness.
Your Valentine party doesn’t have to be a dinner theater. There are tons of ways to have a special evening. I know some families who cook gourmet dinners. My grandparents and aunt put on an epic Valentine sleepover for the grandchildren complete with games and pigs-in-a-blanket.
Your Valentine party doesn’t even have to be with your family! You can find friends to join you. Who isn’t up for a love-themed gathering? (Ok, maybe junior highers.)
The possibilities are endless! Happy Valentine’s Day!
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” John 3:16
Do you celebrate Valentine’s? What are your ideas? Tell me in the comments below!