Tag Archives: thanksgiving

In Defense of Valentine’s Day

February! Beautiful, icy February. If February was a weekday, it would be Tuesday, stuck there in a wintry freeze, lurking after the delicious revelry of holidays and the proud resolve of the first 31 days of year. In the colder regions, February does not often inspire much beyond cracked fingers, templed in prayer for the warmth that comes with Spring.

The culmination of the holiday season also leaves us with a six-month stretch with few holidays to pencil into the calendar. And so I find myself unapologetically in love with the red and pink displays that fill stores during this time of year, head over heels for the frothy holiday that many write off as the over-commercialization and hyper-commodification of sentiment.

It is humorous to me that, after nearly four months of Christmas songs and a season now based in large part on gift purchases, people scoff at Valentine’s Day. Why should a holiday about loving people inspire such hostility, such animosity? Why is it easier to swallow the exploitation of theological thought, whereas one feels that to co-opt the most intimate of emotions is a personal affront: “You can tell me that Christmas requires me to spend thousands of dollars in gifts for family, friends, my doorman, and my hair stylist, but don’t presume to tell me that I need to buy chocolates to show my love for my partner!”

Who could hate this!?
Who could hate this!?

And another group of naysayers exists, those who view Valentine’s Day as a cruel promotion of coupledom, who seem to find that the affront lies, not in telling people how to celebrate their love for a partner, but in pointing out that they have no partner to love.

Someecards.com - Understanding all sides of the Valentine's Day debate
Someecards.com – Understanding all sides of the Valentine’s Day debate

Both of these camps have it wrong. According to a quick Wiki-glance, the most popular account of “Saint Valentine of Rome states that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry, and for ministering to Christians who were persecuted under the Roman Empire.” Today, when we are bombarded with shocking anti-gay statements from those who should seek to provide comfort to others, and when we fight to allow all people to have the right to make a life with whomever they choose, and to be free of persecution, this story should resonate.

According to that same entry, it was not until the High Middle Ages when the day was even associated with romantic love and, in later centuries, the day became a chance to share words of affection, treats of confection, and, of course, flowers.

Roses are red, violets are blue... I love roses.
Roses are red, violets are blue… I love roses.

But is that really so bad?

I have always loved Valentine’s Day. The years when I stuffed into over-booked, over-priced restaurants, I loved it. The years when I spent it at home watching movies with girlfriends, I loved it. The years when I was happily in love, or newly out of love, or pining for someone who would likely never receive any card from me – I have always loved it.

Even the Simpsons love Valentine's Day!
Even the Simpsons love Valentine’s Day!

Because Valentine’s Day need not only be about romantic love, nor should it be. In fact, our pre-holiday Hallmark consumption indicates that it is not that at all. An estimated 190 million valentines are sent each year, with about 95 million of those being sent to family members other than a spouse (like a parent or a child). Half of the consumption, then, is spent to share our feelings of platonic or familial love! How amazing!

American Greetings and I love Mom.
American Greetings and I love Mom.

To generously paraphrase Shakespeare, King of Love Sonnets, if Valentine’s Day is already your holiday of love, love on! But if you have shunned this holiday in the past, I would beg you to reconsider.

Love is not solely confined to romantic love, and we should not limit the sharing of our feelings of affection to our romantic partner, when and if we choose to have one. Valentine’s Day is about sharing affection and love for all of the important people in our lives.

This year, send a love note to your best friend, write a Valentine to your sister, pen a silly sonnet for your cubicle-mate.

And to that final group of naysayers, those who scoff at Valentine’s Day with a “we should show our love to people everyday”: YES! We should share positive feelings of affection – of love – everyday. But just as Thanksgiving is not the only day of the year on which we indulge and overeat, or Mother’s or Father’s Day should not be the only day on which we show gratitude for our parents, Valentine’s Day is not the only day of year on which we appreciate the people around us.

At Panera, you can celebrate Thanksgiving every day.
At Panera, you can celebrate Thanksgiving every day.

Still, I am grateful for the opportunity to send lovely notes, to receive flowers, to wish strangers a happy something-day, and to wear red. I look good in red. If anything, it shows off my pale, dead-of-winter coloring. Which I love.

February is also an excellent time for Game of Thrones marathons.
February is also an excellent time for Game of Thrones marathons.

Update: Happy December! (I’ve returned, with less-sprained fingers & a sulking puppy…)

Well! We have just returned home after two full weeks back home in NY. Our drive up was done in one shot, made bearable by the unexpectedly perfect behavior of our almost-5-month-old puppy and the fact that we had yet to listen to any episodes of Serial. All (at the time) 9 episodes, and many rounds of “whodunnit!?” later, we arrived in NY, and unpacked several suitcases, two bags of doggie items, and an XXL crate.

Ollie was not as enthralled by Serial as we were... But he was an ideal puppy car companion!
Ollie was not as enthralled by Serial as we were… But he was an ideal puppy car companion!

The trip was fantastic. Our post-Hurricane- Sandy home is still kitchen-less, so we celebrated our second Thanksgiving in a row in the East Village at our favorite Cuban restaurant. We were the only diners, aside from the restaurant owners and staff, and we all shared the small dining room to toast to friends, family, and feeling grateful.

One of many paella-and-Sangria-fueled Thanksgiving photos!
One of many paella-and-Sangria-fueled Thanksgiving photos!

 

The day before Thanksgiving, we took Ollie to the beach. He was startled by the ocean at first, but came to love it!
The day before Thanksgiving, we took Ollie to the beach. He was startled by the ocean at first, but came to love it!

The days that preceded and followed the holiday itself flew by. My partner’s visit was broken up by a 2 day business trip that took him to and from Minneapolis. Meanwhile, puppy and I stayed home so that he could play non-stop with my parents’ 3 dogs. A house filled with 4 dogs – ranging in age from 5 months to 10 years, and in size from 30 lbs to 90 lbs – is loud, chaotic, and cuddly. It requires a lot of dog treats, water bowls, paper towel, and patience. Walking 3 puppies at a time may lead to sprained fingers (I still can’t make a tight fist with my left hand…), but snuggling on the couch with 3 or 4 puppies at a time really is the loveliest.

Puppy chase!
Puppy chase!

 

Puppy snuggles!
Puppy snuggles!

The best part of our time in NY was getting to visit with family and friends for such a long time. Generally, we don’t have the opportunity to visit – and stay for 14 days. But once we moved so far away – and once we realized we were going to spend 20-hours driving roundtrip – we decided to make the most of the visit. We had brunches and dinners, we made quick visits for hugs and “see how big little baby has gotten,” and hosted long visits where “just stopping by” turned into “yes, I’ll have another Scotch and what do you have in the fridge?” And we got to spend lots of time with my parents and brother, working from home in my dad’s office, doing errands and holiday shopping, and just relaxing and enjoying NY during the holiday season.

The best visits include a piano and some singing...
The best visits include a piano and some singing…

 

One of the loveliest parts of NY in winter...
One of the loveliest parts of NY in winter…

Our ride home was split into two parts, with a last-minute overnight stop at Kuna and Pierre’s after traffic and pouring rain got the best of us.

Rain and traffic meant we got to visit with these cuties!
Rain and traffic meant we got to visit with these cuties!

Now, we’re back in North Carolina and Ollie is full-on sulking; he clearly misses his puppy-pack and is not thrilled about returning to life as an only child. I am terribly homesick, but am excited to be back on the blog and to get back to work. I’m also ready to plunge headfirst into the holiday season! Most of all, I’m looking forward to twinkling lights, delicious food, hot cocoa, chilled cocktails, Christmas music, reading end-of-year best-of lists, wearing sparkly clothes, getting cards with the faces of people I love on them, and wrapping presents (yep! I love to wrap them!).

What are you most excited about when it comes to the holiday season?!

#thankoutloud midpoint: gratitude and growth

As many of you know, starting on November 1, we began the first #thankoutloud project. Over the last two weeks, it has been wonderful to see so many people sharing their gratitude for others “out loud,” sometimes in person (and then reported via social media), but usually through Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. We even had some people thanking colleagues via LinkedIn!

For me, the best part has been reading about the reactions of those who have been thanked. One person reported back her their dry cleaner was pleased to have been recognized for his hard work and attention to detail; another person shared that her Mom cried when she was thanked for providing such a good example of how to balance professional and personal obligations. And some of those being thanked have chosen to comment directly on the post in which they are cited. It’s fantastic to read those (pleasantly) surprised and (extremely) appreciative comments, as well.

We started the #thankoutloud project somewhat organically – by just beginning to post our own person-focused gratitude each night. We let some people in on the purpose of the project, and they joined us. We put up a post about it, and others started sharing thanks each night. We kept posting, and were thrilled to see people joining in without having been solicited – they just saw the impact of the project and wanted to participate.

My own experience with the project has been rewarding and has strengthened the bonds I have with the amazing people in my life. I’ve been varying my “thanking venues” – some days, Facebook, other days, Instagram. Sometimes the “venue” is based on whatever network the person I’m thanking is a part of, but no matter where I post the thanks, spending a few moments a day crafting a thank you note has had an amazing impact on me. I feel a stronger, more specific sense of gratitude each day for those who impact my life in ways big and small. And this month, I’ve felt a strong sense of gratitude for all of those participating in our little pay-it-forward, gratitude-boot-camp experiment.

Thank you for sharing thanks and for increasing the amount of smiles shared each day. And if you haven’t started to #thankoutloud yet – join us! Research shows that you’ll be grateful you did!

If you have joined the project, who did you feel most appreciated your #thankoutloud?! How did they react? I’d love to hear about it!

x Jessica

In Season

There is a quote that I have always loved. It was written by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby, and I always think of it during mid-October, on the days when I try to rationalize not wearing a coat and then wish that I had decided to bring it along:

“Life starts all over again when it gets crisp in the fall.”

I have always loved the fall season. This may have started with my passion for new school supplies – untouched notebooks, freshly sharpened pencils – and I would imagine that it developed further when I reached the age where fall also meant new riding boots, trips with friends to go apple picking, and long drives through the changing foliage. I’ve had the good fortune to live in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and now, North Carolina. Fall is deeply engrained in me; Northeastern seasons seem as much a part of life as bedtime or my birthday. Even here, “down South,” the leaves are beginning to change colors. The breeze is no longer warm and languid, but brisk and chilly. Walking our puppy requires a sweatshirt and closed-toed shoes. Yesterday, I dropped off three coats at the dry cleaner and was told that they’d be ready very soon because “it’s time for a warm coat.”

I’m thrilled that it’s time for a coat, that autumn is in full swing. There is something special about the fall. It is a chilly respite from the relentless heat of summer and it is undeniably the most gorgeous of seasons, with even a short drive to the store turning into a photo opportunity. Every tree displays itself like a peacock, preening and posing in an effort to outdo the rich displays of its neighbors. It is the botanical version of keeping up with the Jones’, though much more palatable to watch. But unlike spring, where the relief from the cold turns to lush, feral growth, fall gives way to a grueling cycle of snow and of cold. Were it not for the clever punctuation of holidays focused on the warmth of family and friends, the winter season might be wholly unbearable; fall is then, in some ways, a harbinger of gloom.

And so it is interesting that it should feel as though life has begun again in the fall. One might easily say that life is just about to wind down, to freeze over. That fall is sunset, then dusk; the difficult knowledge that what is so bright and beautiful will pass too soon. But instead, fall, with its melancholy beauty, its pre-frost swansong, snaps us out of the laze and lethargy of hot summer days. It sends us back into the classroom, necessitates socks, and shoes with laces, calls for warm drinks and, yes, new notebooks.

Fall requires an element of grit from each of us. It requires the pluck and wherewithal to shake off the sand and salt air of the previous season in order to prepare ourselves for the coming trip around the sun. Fall is both potential and preservation. It requires scarves and gloves, the padding of jackets, but more than that, it requires the padding of spirit. In exchange for this, it provides beauty and perfect Saturdays, pumpkin lattes and Thanksgiving.

The thing is, just like fall, every day – each morning – requires something of us. Each day requires grit and fortitude and the tenacity to begin again.

Life starts all over again in the fall, but it starts all over again every morning, too. Every day rewards us with beauty in return for our willingness to rise to the challenge. The trick is to see the beauty through the chaos or confusion of the day, to allow ourselves to be governed, not by the loss of what was or the fear of what is to come, but the perfect knowledge that we are, as we should be, in season.

 

*This essay was inspired by an open letter that I wrote to the students in my Fall 2012 Positive Psychology course at Johns Hopkins University. Thank you to them, and to all of my students, for being a year-round inspiration.