Valentine’s Day may be about love, but it’s too often expressed with clichéd sentiments and perfunctory presents. Last year, U.S. Valentine’s Day spending was estimated to be $17.3 billion. Yes, billion.
I propose other ways to celebrate. That doesn’t mean giving up on cards, chocolate, and flowers, if these expressions truly touch your heart. It means we can do more with the love we feel for people, our communities, and for the natural world—any day of the year. Consider adding one of these 20 ideas to your Valentine’s Day celebration.
Find hearts everywhere. You can stop by a gallery or museum, finding hearts and other representations of love. Or challenge yourself to photograph hearts you see in nature and everyday objects.
Make original hearts. Create a heart out of something unexpected. Try Legos or charger cables or red peppers. Then photograph it. Send it out via social media or print the image on cards. For a wealth of inspiration, check out Monday Hearts for Madalene.
Learn about symbolism of the heart. This shape has been painted on cave walls by Cro-Magnon people, showed up in ancient Minoan art, and appeared on 15th century playing cards. Assign loving symbolism to some other shape and use it as your secret language.
Appreciate people in your community. Use children’s drawings as wrapping paper, tucking inside each one a piece of wrapped candy or other goodie, along with a note like “thanks for being so nice” or “you made my day.” Then, stay on the lookout for a cheery cashier, helpful librarian, or kind friend and hand them the surprise package. Find more ways kids can perform community service, toddler to teen, here.
Put dollars to work. Hand money out to your family and friends, with a caveat. Challenge recipients to do as much good as they can with $10 (or whatever denomination you choose), then report back with the results by a certain deadline. You can even set up a Facebook event page for this, so their ideas are shared. (There are side benefits. This boosts the happiness of the givers, too.)
Say thanks. Get in touch with Great Aunt Betty to say you appreciate the advice she gave you decades ago, send a note of appreciation to a teacher who made a difference, or call your parents to share a sweet memory from your childhood. (Again, side benefit, gratitude boosts your own health.)
Volunteer. Walk dogs at a shelter, assemble backpacks for homeless people and hand them out, or deliver Meals on Wheels. For more ideas, check out VolunteerMatch.
Commit good deeds anonymously. Valentine’s week is also Random Act of Kindness week. Ideas? Smile at five strangers, leave quarters at the laundromat or in the change slot of vending machines, do someone else’s chore secretly, pay the tab for the next customer, or clean up someone else’s mess.
Make a scratch-off card. It takes paint and dish soap; that’s it. Make a love list card or one that reveals a surprise or come up with your own design.
Give gift certificates from locally owned businesses and organizations like a greenhouse, restaurant or coffee shop, massage therapist, art gallery, sports shop, or bookstore. Or pay for a few hours for a local worker who specializes in home repair, house cleaning, or landscaping.
Give experiences. Go to the theater, take tai chi or weaving lessons, go horseback riding, attend a concert of music new to you, take a city tour, head to a skating rink, or rent a houseboat.
Give gifts for a good cause. There are all sorts of nonprofit stores and charitable shopping sites. Try Water.org, One World Futbol, Freewaters, Serrv, Greater Good, Ten Thousand Villages, and ASPCA. Or get a gift from the gift shop of a nonprofit in your area.
Plant something. Start seeds indoors for your garden. You can even start extras to set up a seed or plant exchange.
Get out there. Picnic outside no matter what the weather, hike somewhere new to you, or go outside after dark to look at the stars.
Build together. Make a fairy house in the woods using nearby sticks and rocks. Build a snow fort. Make a hideout in the attic, backyard, or anywhere you can enter the magic of hidden spaces.
Re-experience childhood delights. Swing on the swings, climb a tree, run a footrace, cook marshmallows over a campfire, or play outdoor games.
Revive the mix-tape tradition. Put together a collection of tunes that says what you feel. In this instance, sappy is good. For an even better reaction, put together a sexy playlist.
Do something that scares you, together. Go bungee jumping or rock climbing or whatever gets your heart racing. Even a scary movie can be good for the love life.
Talk about first loves. Maybe just first crushes. It’s a way of tenderly exploring the inner world of your partner’s earliest years.
Make date night fascinatingly unexpected. Try an alternative identity date. Make up your own triathlon (for example—competing in air hockey, tongue twisters, and onion-ring eating). Participate in a mud run. Here are 35 ideas for never dull dates.