Who Turned Valentine’s Day Into an Elementary School Candy Bonanza?


I thought Valentine’s Day was supposed to be the holiday for love. Grown-up love. So when did Valentine’s Day become an excuse for every little kid in elementary school to come home lugging a bag full of candy and a whole bunch of fairly meaningless, generic cards?

If you’re the parent of elementary school kids (and some middle and high schoolers, too) you know exactly what I’m talking about. We turned our head for a minute and some clever marketer slipped in there and turned the day into a BIG event in American schools. You thought it was stressful for the husbands of the world? Ha, our plight pales in comparison to the parent who discovers, the night before Valentine’s Day, that she has failed to equip her child with a big box of Valentine’s treats for the entire class. Her child will then experience an entire humiliating day of one-way gifting: receiving cards and candy with nothing to give in return. Oh, the years of therapy the kid will require as a result.

Valentine’s Day is one of those kiddy holidays that requires considerable pre-planning: you have to make a trip to the store several days before the holiday so that you have your pick of the premium candy/card combinations. Frustratingly, many of the combination boxes come in units of 24 or 26—just a bit short of the average American classroom these days, which typically number closer to 30 little ones. So that means you might have to buy two of the boxes (which usually go about $4 each) to cover every kid in the class. Even the kids that your child doesn’t like. Even the little knuckleheads who regularly disrupt the class with their shenanigans; even the annoying ones who sit near your daughter and prove to be a daily source of distraction for her. You gotta get a card for everybody.

And as for the messages on the cards? I’m not a big fan. My daughter snagged a Lifesavers Gummies collection at Target with cards that had the following four messages:

You Make Me Smile

Cool and Colorful. That’s You.

Let’s Hang Out.

I Got My Eye on You.

Really, I could do without my fourth-grade daughter telling some snot-nosed boy, “I Got My Eye On You.” But ever the clever one, my daughter turned that particular message around and said she was going to give it to all the bad-ass boys in the class who were always on the verge of causing trouble. EVERYBODY needs to keep their eyes on those boys.

I understand that the nation’s retailers are constantly on the lookout for another holiday that they can turn into a merchandising machine, but we parents are the real victims here, not the kids. The kiddies get another excuse to accumulate large satchels of candy. But we’re the ones who wind up with the bill—from Target and the dentist.


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Nick Chiles

Nick Chiles is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and a New York Times bestselling author of 12 books, including the upcoming "The Rejected Stone: Al Sharpton and the Path To American Leadership," which he co-authored with Al Sharpton.


  1. Like you, I do NOT like how this holiday has turned into a commercial racket for the kiddie-set. I tried to balance it this year by urging my daughter to make valentines for her class and she did. She’s very crafty and had fun spending a Sunday afternoon making valentines for the kids and teachers in her class. But when she was done, she thought they “needed” candy attached. I protested. But she pushed back and didn’t want to be “the only one” not giving out candy. I told her that I was NOT making a special trip to Target, so if I did buy candy, it would be whatever I found during my weekly Monday shopping trip at Whole Foods – and Whole Foods does not sell candy similar to Target. I bought organic lollipops. She’s happy to attach SOMETHING to the valentine’s and I didn’t have to go out of my way. But really, I wish this would just stop!

  2. So, I thought I’d gotten away pretty easily. We made the valentines, I did the prep work (cutting out the hearts, etc.) and my kids did the assembly. After everything was done and put into the backpack. My son ask me when we’d be making the cookies and did I buy some punch or CapriSuns to pass out? Um…huh?

  3. As the mom of three kids, I don’t want to even think about the money and time spent on Valentine’s Day this year. (I had to do 45 valentines for my youngest because his preschool class & his gymnastics class needed cards!)

    As we filled out cards last night, I found myself lamenting the trees being sacrificed for something no one was going to read – they would only be interested in candy attached. Yet today when my middle son brought his bag of loot home, he took the time to read each card and smile at the sentiments. He even set some aside to keep (one girl had hers personalized with photos of herself on them).

    Valentine’s Day is definitely a racket, but it still manages to touch the heart of my little boy.

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