February 14th marks the day that lovers express and reaffirm their affection and love for one another. Although the origins of Valentine's Day are somewhat murky, the generally agreed upon observances include the giving or sending of cards and small gifts. Other things to do on Valentine's Day include romantic dinners and nights out.
Valentine's Day has been observed in a number of fashions throughout the decades, but the traditions that Americans associate with the holiday did not truly take place until about 1847. This year marks the first occasion that an American stationery store sold pre-printed Valentine's Day cards, and a practice that seems to have already flourished in England finally took hold in North America.
Nineteenth century social mores made the exchange of Valentine's Day gifts a mostly one-sided occasion for those who were unmarried. Men would offer handwritten---and later printed---cards to their love interests. As the 20th century was ushered in, gifts of flowers and later candies were added to the Valentine's Day observances. In the 1980s, the rise of diamond industry advertisements urging the purchase of a special gift gave a decidedly commercial feel to the occasion.
England introduced North America to the concept of greeting card exchanges for Valentine's Day observances, but other countries have put their own special spin on the day. In Sweden, giving flowers is at the heart of the observance, while cards take a backseat. Finland expanded the celebration to not only include lovers but also friends. In Japan, women take the initiative and present the men in their lives with chocolate candies.
Men and women observing Valentine's Day today generally use pre-printed cards. They serve as a springboard from which to seek out more elaborate observances. The ultimate observance is perhaps a marriage proposal timed for this day. A night out with dinner, dancing, and time away from friends and family is also part of the observance. Of course, finding the right things to do on Valentine's Day depends largely on the couple's tastes and preferences.
Planning the night out is usually left to the man, while the woman supplies the actual romantic touches. For example, while he may choose the restaurant and make the dinner reservations, she may set up an appointment for them to have a joint photo taken at a professional photographer's studio.
Valentine's Day has been derided as a "Hallmark holiday" that is artificially created and upheld by those who have a commercial stake in its continued popularity. Although this may be true in part, the underlying benefits that a couple experiences from finding things to do together on Valentine's Day cannot be overlooked. Just taking one night of the year to focus on each other and the relationship helps couples reconnect with the original feelings they had for one another. As life gets busy and other things clamor for attention, this time of exclusive focus is vital for healthy relationships.
Pre-printed cards, prepackaged candies and of course flowers often take the place of heartfelt expressions of love. It is a misconception that this is sufficient to truly observe Valentine's Day. Instead, it is the deep, emotional connection between two lovers that matters on this day. Couples can accomplish this without the commercial trappings simply by enjoying a quiet evening together that is not interrupted by friends, family members or obligations.