Thanks to poetry wizard Geoffrey Chaucer and his Middle Ages literary clique, St Valentine’s Day – originally established in 496 AD to honour early Christian martyrs – only became associated with romance in the 14th Century flourish of courtly love.
And so now, even though the shopping frenzy of Christmas is not long passed, shop windows are exploding with red and pink novelties designed to get you digging deep into your pockets again.
But why, we ask, must your innermost feelings of warm, fuzzy-wuzziness toward your significant other be quantified with nasty plastic tat? Or by a price tag, as the deluge of Valentine’s Day inspired emails from online shops would suggest?
Hijacked by retailers, February 14th has become an exercise in throwing money around, and not – as Chaucer et al intended – a day to show your other half how much you appreciate them being in your life and not having a strop when you leave the toilet seat up, or forget to buy washing powder, or whatever domestic glue it is that helps make your relationship super.
So, instead of a jaw-droppingly expensive piece of bling or sarcastically over-sized teddy bear (so impractical), consider these ideas instead:
‘If music be the food of love, play on’ said Duke Orsino in Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, so how about showing your significant other some love through song?
Yes, it helps if you’re musically-gifted, but even if your instrumental ability barely incorporates the triangle there’s lots of music-creation software available (often free to download - try Audacity or Audiosauna) that’ll let you express your heart’s desires in an easy and intuitive way that’s even more personal than the usual mix-tape fare (who needs ten years of classical guitar, eh?).
Hold the phone, we hear you cry. Camping? In February? Yes, in February, now calm down. Think about it: the two of you in a secluded spot, huddled together under the stars with no distractions. And if done properly, it can be quite a luxurious experience: bring soft blankets and cushions, and delicious food and wine.
Yes, it will be chilly, but campfires produce flattering light and you’ll have each other to warm up with. Ahem. Alternatively, get someone to sort it all for you and book a night in one of the UK’s many yurt campsites.
Get creative in the kitchen
The kitchen is one of least romantic rooms in the house; it’s where you shovel down your morning cereal and feed the dog, after all.
But with the right ingredients you can transform it into a grown-up playground perfect for a Valentine’s night in. Before you get the wrong idea (or right idea, depending on what you're into), we’re talking about an evening of making homemade chocolates or cocktails (or cakes, biscuits, pie... you get the gist).
Yes, it’s easier to nip to the shop and buy a box of choccies, but that won’t be half as fun or memorable, and leaves no room for licking chocolate off... erm, spatulas, if you know what we mean (you know what we mean).
Cute and cuddly
Forget odd-looking stuffed animals in lurid colours and go for the real deal. Puppies and kittens are widely regarded as the most adorable things on Earth, and as such presenting one to your significant other is guaranteed partner points. But unless you’ve made a responsible decision as a couple to care for a pet in the long term, don’t go out and buy one – borrow one!
Pet rental is a big deal in the states, and has yet to hit the UK market, but ask around your friends and colleagues; someone you know is bound to have a furry friend to lend you for a couple of hours. Just think of the money you'll save on vet bills, pet insurance and food.
Snap happySpend a day exploring a part of town you’re not familiar with, and take a camera along. Not a digital one, mind; pick up a couple of cheap disposable ones from a chemists or newsagents. Have fun messing around with poses, perspectives and props, and then get your snaps developed at a one-hour processing place. Chances are they’ll be a blurry, warped mess, but they’ll serve as an amusing reminder of a day spent loved-up and laughing.
A picture is worth a thousand words...
For a really touching gift, consider a child’s storybook (bear with us here). There are hundreds of beautifully illustrated children’s books on the market, all of which tell wonderfully heart-warming tales of friendship and unconditional love.
Make it personal by choosing one with significance to your other half (if they love rabbits, look for bunny characters, or if they’ve recently overcome a personal challenge, one with themes of bravery, for example) and you’ve got a really unique, thoughtful and romantic Valentine’s present. Don’t forget to inscribe it!
V-Day volunteeringValentine’s Day is traditionally about luxurious extravagances and overindulgence in all kinds of temptations. Again, ahem. So how about bucking the trend and buddying up with your other half to do some good for others? Shops, schools, community projects and programmes across the country are crying out for volunteers, and just a single afternoon could make a huge difference to someone else’s day, as well as give you and your partner even more to feel warm and fuzzy about.
The gift of time
How many times have you heard your partner utter the words, "I wish there were more hours in the day"? Especially relevant if there are kids involved, some folk just don’t have enough time to get things done, which can lead to stress and irritability.
Sure, you might not be able to help them with work or studying, but you can help to lessen their load by making dinner, dealing with the household chores or doing the school-run, giving them time for themselves.
This might not necessarily involve you – perhaps they’d want to spend time with a hobby, for example – but it will show them how important their happiness is to you, which is, after all, the point of Valentine’s Day.