How do we give meaning
back to Valentine's Day?

Valentine’s Day is fast approaching and while some take delight in it as the most romantic day of the year, others could be forgiven for thinking the day has become a forced celebration of consumerism.

This article was originally written for Body & Soul.

Some couples get great pleasure from celebrating their love with an intimate exchange of cards, flowers, chocolates and even jewellery. Other couples see it as just another day and prefer to celebrate their love in more spontaneous, possibly less expensive ways throughout the year.

It is hard to escape the FOMO that accompanies the marketing for Valentine’s Day and tells you that if you really care about your loved one, you buy them gifts.

So how do we step back from the commercialisation of the day and reclaim it as a more meaningful and genuine celebration of love?

Are you and your partner on the same page?

As with all celebrations, Valentine’s Day comes with high expectations and the potential for disappointment. Do you and your partner share the same view of Valentine’s Day? It is important to recognise they may not feel the same way as you.

Beware the marketing pressures that tempt you to think that if your partner doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day then they don’t really care about you. Comparisons with what others might be doing on the day never helps either. These differences need a tender discussion of feelings navigated with give and take. But if your partner is not good at expressing their love at any other time, Valentine’s Day may highlight a significant lack in your relationship that needs attention.

The history of Valentine’s Day

We take many celebration days for granted, with little awareness of their origins or meaning. Valentine’s Day is said by some to be linked back to ancient Roman times and the pagan Feast of Lupercalia, celebrated from February 13-15. The story goes that young men would sacrifice a goat and young women would be beaten with the hides of the slain animals, in the belief this would make them fertile.

Another origin story is the execution of a clergyman named Valentine, his crime was ministering to persecuted Christians, on February 14 in the 3rd century A.D. The Catholic Church regarded Valentine as a martyr and the celebration of Saint Valentine’s Day began.

While the truth of any connection between these pagan and Christian events isn’t established, Valentine’s Day became a celebration of fertility and love. Saint Valentine is not just the patron saint of love and happy marriages, but also beekeeping, plague and epilepsy!

Some say that Valentine’s cards evolved as early as the 15th century and continued to grow in popularity. Lovers crafted beautiful hand-made cards trimmed with lace and ribbon and illustrated with romantic symbols of flowers, pictures of cupid, love knots and lines of poetry proclaiming love and admiration for the receiver. They were often sent from a secret admirer.

Advances in printing saw the mass-production of Valentine’s cards and, as the tradition gained popularity in America, Hallmark Cards produced their first Valentine’s card in 1913. The commercialisation of Valentine’s Day evolved and today it is big business.

How to give back meaning to Valentine’s without breaking the bank

  1. Make a hand-made card and tell your partner all the things you appreciate about them and how much you value the relationship you share.
  2. Little moments where you affirm your love count more than any grand gestures. A gift exchanged without intimacy has little value. Imbue your gift with meaning by holding hands, touching, a kiss, loving eye contact and being present.
  3. Small, thoughtful actions go a long way. They can be as unromantic as buying that tube of fungal cream from the chemist that your partner keeps forgetting, to show that you are thinking of them. Send them a loving text message when you’re in the same room or sing them your favourite silly love song.
  4. Share a simple meal out, pack a picnic or prepare a favourite meal together at home with candlelight.
  5. A weekend away or a day trip to a beautiful location is a great way to enjoy some quality, meaningful time together.
  6. Make a genuine effort to have some intimate time together just the two of you, even if it’s only for an hour or so. Turn off the computer, phone and TV, and push work pressures aside.
  7. Instead of expensive roses that wilt in no time, buy a plant for the garden or in a pot. Watch it grow together.
  8. Create and build romantic rituals you can share in a lasting way through the years.
  9. Plan adventures and make them happen, even if it means stepping out of your comfort zone.
  10. Make a vow together to grow your relationship every day. It does take two so talk about how you can be the best partner for each other. While it’s often a challenge, make a commitment to let go of unnecessary resentment, reduce reactivity, value forgiveness as a regular event, be kind, generous, respectful, learn how to listen to each other and explore shared goals and dreams while supporting each other’s individual goals and dreams.

Single on Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s Day has always carried a certain sadness for those of us who are single and bereft of the devoted attentions of a romantic admirer. However, it is worth noting that in some cultures Valentine’s Day is not all about romance and instead can be a time to let those closest to you know how much you appreciate and love them.

Rather than feeling sad and sorry for yourself, why not reach out to others and let them know how much you value their friendship? You may touch some hearts in a special way.

Valentine’s Day as a trigger

If Valentine’s Day does shine a light on some painful lacks in your relationship it may be time to give these concerns some attention. This may be something you can agree to focus on together through prioritising each other and investing time together.

However, if Valentine’s Day highlights some stuck points or difficulty navigating change, then professional assistance with a well-trained couple therapist can be beneficial.


Written by Elisabeth Shaw, CEO of Relationships Australia NSW.

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