True to form, I belatedly realized the current and shortest month of the year offers the most opportunities to celebrate. Besides the one federal holiday, there are a couple of other popular observances – not even counting the ones we have already missed: National Tater Tot Day and National Nutella Day.
As February dawned, I was digitally thumbing through archived copies of the UDC to determine how Champaign Countians celebrated Valentine’s Day in years past. However, it occurred to me I really ought to first check out local observances of Groundhog Day – long before Punxsutawney Phil and Bill Murray gained national prominence.
Actually, Phil’s forefathers – many of them – have been prognosticating over there in Pennsylvania since 1887. When I was a kid, the Groundhog Day report seemed like all the other boring weather predictions my dad periodically read to us from the Farmers’ Almanac.
In the old newspapers, however, I found a trio of notable references. Back in 1933, meteorological messages seemed mixed when robins on College Street signaled spring just as the groundhog predicted more winter. During WWII, a newswire story carried the headline: “Mr. Groundhog Refuses Prediction – It Might Help the Axis.” And in 1961, syndicated columnist Dick West cleverly echoed: “Yes, Virginia, there is a groundhog. His spirit symbolizes mankind’s universal longing for the arrival of spring.”
More important to kids and lovers, however, has always been Valentine’s Day. In 1930 most “valentining” happened socially: bridge parties and dinner parties with heart-adorned place cards and dainty heart mints in nut cups. Ten years later, popular gifts were assorted candies in a Valentine box – and a $27.85 wedding ensemble with six diamonds in yellow gold for a dollar down at C.W. Evans & Son. By the way, the high school French Club presented a Valentine corsage to the chef of the UHS cafeteria.
The Rock Shop on North Main in 1960 advised that “for as little as $84 you can give her enough Reed & Barton sterling to serve four people.” The Martha and Ruth Circles of the United Lutheran Church Women planned seasonal festivities for residents and patients at the Champaign County Home-Hospital. And Class 5-3 at Mechanicsburg Elementary combined their Valentine’s party with classwork: “the greetings, introductions, and serving of visitors were capably handled by the youngsters.”
One UDC feature in 1970 suggested that “the easiest and prettiest way to observe the romantic occasion” was with a heart-shaped “Candy Apple Salad with Wine,” recipe included. Members of the West Liberty Fire Department and their wives attended the annual Valentine potluck dinner, while the Rhythm Ramblers provided music for the Loyal Lodge Valentine Dance.
The county library celebrated Valentine’s Day in 1980 with a fine-free Thursday, and Ethel’s Flower Shop sold cut arrangements for $6 cash-and-carry. A Valentine special from the classifieds: old English sheepdog puppies for $75 each. And Triad’s fifth-grade “cupids” presented staff members with candy and cards during Ohio’s month-long “Teachers Are Tops” initiative.
A 1990 merchants’ page advertised free gift wrap at Uhlmans, 20% off heart-shaped items at Yesterday’s Treasures, 25% off dolls dressed in red or pink at Heather & Friends Doll Shoppe. A Valentine potluck and talent show took place at the Senior Citizens Center, and the Cancer Association of Champaign County sold hearts for a dollar apiece at various business establishments to raise money for patient services.
Personally, I loved the doilies I always glued on my Valentine boxes for the parties organized by our room mothers. But the very best part of the mid-February holiday was addressing and signing valentines – despite agonizing over choosing just the right card for each classmate. I could never understand that some mothers did all the choosing and addressing and signing.
Sadly, I am not sure how today’s schoolkids celebrate, what with guarding against sugary treats and peanut allergies, cramming nonstop for state tests, experiencing all-too-frequent snow days on party day, and following pandemic recommendations. It seems harder to be a kid these days…
One UDC item in 1940 caught my eye. In addition to their Valentine celebration, the kids at South School in Urbana also prepared for the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln on February 12 and George Washington on February 22 by pasting hearts on the blackboard and pictures of the two presidents on the windows. That was back when children in school learned about the honesty of Washington as illustrated in the cherry tree story that appeared for many years in McGuffey’s second-grade reader. That was back when children learned about the honesty of Lincoln as he walked several miles to return correct change to one of his customers.
I venture to say that most kids knew those two dates until the 70s and 80s when the Uniform Monday Holiday Act created a Presidents Day to honor former chief executives. I wonder how many children think maybe Lincoln and Washington actually shared the same birthday.
Fifty years or so ago, there were dinners and lectures and UDC editorials in observance of the Washington and Lincoln birthdays. As the 20th century moved on, however, the news mostly generated lists of official closings for the combined federal holiday – and ads for all manner of related retail events.
So, dear readers, happy everything this month! After all, National Pancake Day and National Chili Day are coming up soon. And then there is my birthday, of undisclosed date and age, looming on the horizon…
Shirley Scott, a 1966 graduate of Graham High School, is a native of Champaign County. After receiving degrees in English and German from Otterbein College, she returned to GHS in 1970 where she taught until retiring in 2010. From 1976-2001 she coordinated the German Exchange Program with the Otto-Hahn-Gymnasium in Springe.