February 2020 was not only the month of romance in the nippy winter air as we hoped it would be, but it also marked the last month of life as we knew it – in Austria, at least. This year, the celebration of romance and love stands falls the auspices of lockdowns, whether severe or mild, under news of vaccinations, measures and restrictions.
While the commercial dimension of the holiday suffered an immense setback this year, we may take this as an opportunity to return to the simple essence of the holiday – celebrate romance without too much artifice or without the compulsion of splurging on various services and products marked up because they come with a beautiful red packaging on 14 February.
What is the simple essence of Valentine’s Day? While it can differ from culture to culture and it can be highly subjective, based on its significance for couples and singles alike, in it’s simplest form it is known as the celebration of lovers and romance. Some may know it as that holiday you are pressured to find a date on, or some disparage it as that kitschy holiday with flowers and heart-shaped chocolate boxes, that time of the year when most restaurants are pink or red, that day we receive or send cards or progress to other stages in the relationship with the significant other. The list can go on – it is worth noting that all these elements ring true in our age, as all these practices are the product of historical transformation, interpretation and appropriation. But where do they come from?
Did you know 14 February has been declared as St. Valentine’s Feast Day towards end of the 5th century? Did you know that February has been long considered the month of romance due to an ancient and bloody fertility ritual during this month as well as coinciding with the beginning of the birds’ mating season? Did you know Geoffrey Chaucer of Canterbury Tales fame has the distinction of having first mentioned the romantic nuance of St. Valentine’s Day in a 1375 poem? Did you know that Valentine’s Day card as we know it today is a 19th century American invention, credited to a Ms. Esther Howland, who created the first valentines by adorning the paper with scraps of lace and ribbons? Did you know that giving a box of chocolates is the result of the marketing brilliance of the British manufacturer Cadbury? All these fun facts and more about the origins of St. Valentine’s Day can be read on History – we certainly had a good time learning about this day and seeing it from a different perspective.
However you choose to feel about this holiday, one thing is for certain: romance has been in the air on 14 February since the Middle Ages, so we hope that our readers feel inspired to personalize their celebration this year and tap into their inner creative resources to channel their capacity for romance to beautiful and meaningful gestures towards their partner or valentine. Just a quick warning that the word ‘valentine’ is used here both for the significant other and for the type of card that is given on this occasion – context is key.
Without much ado, here are our top ideas for a romantic Valentine’s Day in 2021. Whether you have been together with your significant other for decades or if this is blossoming love story, we hope these ideas will inspire you all the same.
Lyrical or epistolary love declarations
“All thoughts, all passions, all delights,
Whatever stirs this mortal frame,
All are but ministers of Love,
And feed his sacred flame.“
We wish we could take credit for penning these elevated lyrics, yet they sprang from the lovelorn pen of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Many trees have been felled since the oldest of times to record pangs of passion, incensed declarations of love, letters, poems and stretches of stories. Many love stories have inspired and fanned the flames of our imagination and survived the passage of time, becoming immortal beacons of love, such as Romeo and Juliet (1597). St. Valentine himself was said to have penned the world’s first ‘valentine’. While now lost to the passage of centuries, legend has it that the letter from prison to his beloved was signed with ‘your Valentine’, an expression still in use today, primarily in the English-speaking countries.
In honour of this beautiful historic tradition of expressing one’s feelings through literary production, we would like to suggest to our readers to make a special effort and to try their hand at composing either a lovely poem or a heartfelt letter to their valentine. Our modern readers may be shocked to learn that before ‘Netflix and chill’ became a substitute for romance, in those dark ages before the World Wide Web, people would send themselves letters. Valentine’s Day cards often came with a personalized touch and would be kept as a lovely memento. We have no doubt that some may treasure the literary expression of affection greatly and that it would be a very original gift indeed.
If truly at a loss for inspired words either in the lyrical or epistolary form, our readers may find inspiration in the Poetry Foundation database of poems, meaning that selecting the right verses to dedicate to their valentine would still lend a great degree of personalization to this practice. Let us know which poem you have chosen to cite in your valentine’s card.
If music be the food of love, play on
The famous line delivered by the Duke of Orsino, one of Shakespeare’s most fervent romantics, serves as inspiration for our next idea, as musical notes have also been known to deliver some of the most moving pieces to express affection, passion and love. So, the valentine can be delivered by message together with a song or you and your valentine can listen together to a special playlist for this occasion. Many couples tend to have a special song they both adore, so start with that one or use this opportunity to find ‘your song’. If you feel you need to get inspired or start exploring romance in music, here are Billboard’s top 50 love songs of all time to get you started.
If you are musician, then this is the perfect opportunity to create a song inspired by your valentine. If not a musician, but you play an instrument, have a surprise performance for your significant other.
À la carte in the dining room
Booking tables at restaurants well in advance for Valentine’s Day was a common practice up until last year, as were the special menus for couples celebrating in this manner. This year, with most restaurants closed and few operating only for delivery services, sharing the experience of a gourmet meal in a five-star restaurant can be only a memory or a plan for the future. But if you love cooking or are especially good at it, or, on the contrary, you are the partner designated least with food preparation, you can come up with your very own surprise gourmet experience at home. After all, if you are aware of your significant other’s preferences, dislikes, even food allergies, you can plan create such a lovely culinary experience that the restaurant will not even be an option from now on.
Top tip: choose a theme (heart-shaped everything, aphrodisiacs, luxuriant texture, three-ingredient wonders and so on), and/or a national cuisine, then consider dietary flexibility and preferences and prepare the menu (entrée, main and dessert or just two of them). It should be simple enough that you can cook it over the course of a few hours or a day in advance. Be sure you are familiar with the cooking techniques and have all the necessary utensils. Be familiar with the site, chef or amateur cook you are drawing inspiration from, it would be ideal if you have had prior experience with their recipes and flavour palate – it should be similar to yours, so that the tastes don’t come across off. Additionally, practice your plating until then with regular meals, to ensure the final dishes will look visually pleasing if not outright five-star. Lastly, select a great wine or champagne to go along with the dishes.
Make it a special evening by setting the table with lit candles, some rose petals scattered around the plates and dress up – whatever you would wear at a cocktail bar or rooftop terrace would do just fine. Enjoy with some smooth jazz in the background.
… Or make cooking a fun experience
It seems to be a rite of passage for fresh couples to cook together and enjoy the meal that was jointly created. Cooking aptitudes are not required for this as it is meant to be a fun activity for the couple. So, choose the dishes you wish to cook and get to it, let fun be the main theme and see where it takes you.
Reconnect and rekindle
Perhaps shifts in priorities to counter the unexpected changes brought on by the previous year have occurred at the detriment of your connection with your significant other, whether it manifested emotionally or intimately, all the while allowing room for friendship, convenience and routine to bridge your relationship. If you know each other to be stuck in a rut, but want to see things change, make a conscious effort to enact that change. There are many couple therapies out there, many of them available as online courses or retreats. Reflect with your partner on the nature of the rut and be open about what you are missing to reignite that spark and consult the best specialist to provide you with the helpful tools. An authority in the field, Dr. Ester Perel has her very own course that couples may take to recapture the spark. There are also various metaphysical practices, inspired by neo-tantra and yoga that have helped couples rebuild their connection when it was but embers, which are also recommendable practices to commit to in order to reconnect or even transform your connection. Just use the occasion of this holiday to strengthen your commitment to one another and to the practices that will help you along to achieve this goal.
The Love Lock Bridge
While not inherently a Valentine’s Day tradition, in past centuries in Western Europe, promenading arm in arm with one’s beloved unchaperoned would be today’s equivalent of changing one’s status to ‘in a relationship’. As few activities remain viable, why not consider this old-fashioned practice of talking a stroll about the town or neighbourhood together on 14 February – should personal health and the weather permit it, of course. For the couples that are truly committed, end the stroll at Stadtpark and place a padlock on the Love Lock Bridge. If this is too far from your walking route, perhaps the Reichbrücke and Baumgartenbrücke are nearer padlock bridges, where you can seal your romance.
An artistic gift
If you are fond of arts and crafts, such as painting, drawing, sculpting or scrapbooking, you may be in a position to create a very unique valentine (card) for your significant other. It can be inspired by the original with laces, ribbons and pictures, or it can be an amazing drawing/painting in whichever size you wish to make it. If you are both artists, create something together for Valentine’s Day.
If neither of you is artistically inclined, this gift can be outsourced and repurposed into something more grandiose in scope. There are numerous artists who offer the service of drawing/painting themed portraits, caricatures or comic-strips of couplea and to ship the original – just do a bit of research on Instagram, Facebook and DeviantArt to find the artists that appeal to you most, and make sure to read the reviews of their commissioned work before contacting them. Alternatively, there are print shops that specialize in generating abstracts or cartoons based off an input image. The abstraction is printed then shipped in a few days depending on the seller’s location. Usually the costs for prints are significantly lower than a commissioned work of art, but no doubt, equally unique and special.
You can do no wrong with flowers and chocolate
The most traditional gift, the bestsellers on Valentine’s Day: flowers and chocolate. Flowers on Valentine’s Day might not be the most ideal last-minute gift, so be sure get them at least one day in advance or order your bouquet from any flower shop that still operates in these times. Special boxes of chocolate, on the other hand, are a welcome treat, but our readers should be mindful that except for the chocolate shops in tourist areas, it will be unlikely to find other stores that sell pralines on a Sunday open – be sure to shop ahead.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
We take this opportunity to wish our readers a romantic and magical St. Valentine’s Day 2021, we hope our suggestions have inspired you and significant other to make this day the most special one yet.