Can You Feel The Love? A Canadian Valentine


Can You Feel The Love?

A British expat discovers Canada’s uplifting approach to Valentine’s Day.

By Aisha Ashraf

Global Living – Issue 10 | January/February 2014

In the sepia-tinted days before the Internet and selfies existed, Valentines Day at my British primary school wasn’t much different from any other day. Pot-stirring peers might read a little extra meaning into a game of Kiss Chase, but by and large our young lives galloped on apace, untouched by the legacy of an unspecified early Christian martyr named Valentine (apparently there were a few) or that behemoth of saccharine sentimentality: Hallmark.

It wasn’t until I entered high school that Valentine’s Day became a socially treacherous popularity contest. Coming from a sheltered family of daughters and attending a girl’s convent school, my contact with the opposite sex extended about as far as my father and Mr. Kraftl, the music teacher with a penchant for tight-fitting trousers. The likelihood of me getting a valentine was on a par with Silvio Berlusconi entering Holy Orders.

It’s common practice in the U.K. for the sender of a valentine to remain anonymous, thus the day supposedly bequeaths an opportunity for secret admirers to let the object of their affections know they exist, albeit in a semi-creepy, stalker-ish kind of way. I just prayed no one at school asked the awful question, ‘How many did you get?’ If you lied and gave a number, they wanted full disclosure of all your social interactions with boys since the dawn of time, to the point where you were in danger of drowning in your own deception. I just used to stutter that the postman hadn’t been around yet when I left for school and hope everyone forgot by the next day.

Here in Canada it’s a totally different scenario. They’ve found a way to spread the love more evenly; they start young and everyone’s in. Most kids in Ontario begin full-day kindergarten at four and, of all the accoutrements I was expected to outfit, I never imagined twenty-plus Valentines cards would number among them come February.

Photography by Aisha Ashraf

Photography by Aisha Ashraf

The first year here I was taken totally by surprise. Unaccustomed to such avid observation of celebration days (I should have guessed from the enthusiastic indulgence in Halloween and Christmas that this was a nation that liked to party!), I hadn’t envisaged blanket participation by five-year-olds. My eldest came home with a bagful of cards and gifts and the disgruntled reproof that I hadn’t given her any valentines to distribute.

As we sifted through the stickers, sweets, cookies and crafts that her classmates had given her, I marveled at the thoughtfulness of a tangle of red and white wool soaked in PVA glue and left to dry in the shape of a heart while she munched her way through popcorn and lollipops and proudly showed me her cards.

True to Canada’s reputation for diplomacy and inclusion, schools request that if you’re going to distribute cards, you do so to every child in the class so no one is left out. Admirable from an anti-bullying and self-esteem standpoint, but pointless as a meaningful expression of affection if your child has to give a card to the kid that’s been tripping them up in the playground and stomping on their hands at Circle Time. But for the moment, it’s less about romance and more about encouraging love for one’s fellow Man, and we could all use some more of that.

Photography by Aisha Ashraf

Photography by Aisha Ashraf

When the day draws near now, we head off to the shops for sheets of a dozen or so perforated cards that look like gift tags. Reams of princesses and pink hearts jostle with cars and superheroes and there are even cards for the teachers. We were amazed by all the people who went the extra mile and made or decorated their own cards with ready-made craft packs before attaching all sorts of trinkets to them – anything from pencils to sweet treats to mini-action figures.

Excitement builds as the day draws near. I’d suggest not leaving it until the night before to determine the name and gender of forty-odd classroom comrades (I now have two children at school) while overseeing the lackadaisical application of sticky hearts and glitter, as it likely detracts from the amount of Love the end-product absorbs during its manufacture, and yes, you’d be right in guessing I speak from experience!

I’m glad my kids won’t feel the anxiety I did when Valentine’s Day approaches. I suppose you could say the old hippy vibe is still strong in Canada – it’s all about Peace, Love and Bacon. Oops, did I say bacon? I meant bonhomie.

AishaAshrafAisha Isabel Ashraf  is a freelance writer who’s made the expatriate leap of faith twice – first as a lifestyle choice, and now as the trailing spouse of a civil engineer in a global consultancy. Currently based in Canada with her husband and children, she’s crossed geographical, cultural and religious borders and gives a candid account of the journey on her award-winning blog, Expatlog (www.expatlog.com). Her fascination for travel and psychology drives her work today. Her series of posts entitled ‘Breaking the Code of Silence’, about stigma and mental illness, led to her participation in a research study for Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. She also writes for various U.K. newspapers, travel and lifestyle publications, and is a columnist for Expat Focus, an established online expat resource. Follow her on Twitter at: @AishaAshraf1.

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