It’s a day on the calendar that conjures images of paper hearts, elaborate boxes of chocolate, and declarations of love.

It can also be a day that inspires…dread.

Let’s face it, there is a lot of pressure when it comes to celebrating Valentine’s Day. For people who are single, it can feel like an awkward or lonely day. For those in romantic relationships, the expectations surrounding the day and its importance in a couple’s love story can take a lot of fun out of the celebration. So how do we reclaim Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate love without coming to hate all the tension the day can bring?

First, a little history lesson. Valentine’s Day has ancient roots. Rome commemorated it originally as a fertility festival. Over the years, the day was Christianized in honor of St. Valentine. Exactly which St. Valentine is being honored is a little murky. There’s the St. Valentine conducted secret weddings for star-crossed lovers when the Emperor Claudius restricted young men from marrying who he wanted to commission as soldiers. There’s another St. Valentine rumored to help break Christians out of prison. And there’s the story of the imprisoned St. Valentine who reportedly fell in love with his jailor’s daughter and passed her a note before his execution declaring his love and signing ‘From Your Valentine.’ Dramatic, tragically romantic St. Valentines, all.

What we do know is that the first written valentines began to show up around 1400. Today, the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Mexico, Australia, and France celebrate the holiday. The tradition has expanded to include written notes and sweet treats for beloved friends and family as well as romantic attachments.

So what are some fresh ideas on how to celebrate without piling pressure on the day?

  1. Note…Book. Find a romantic classic at a used bookstore, like Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Or choose an over-the-top modern romance novel. Write notes in the margin to each other, on passages you find hilarious or beautiful, trading the book back and forth for the next year. Tuck ticket stubs, funny comics, and flowers between the pages, creating an archive of the story of your romance.
  2. Take a virtual cooking class together, with your sweetheart, your friend, or family members. Rather than trying to figure out which restaurants might be open or closed or booked, sign up for a virtual cooking class and make dinner together at home.
  3. Hold your own Valentine’s Dance. Hit up a great playlist, get dressed up (you can have the kids be part of this as well!) and turn the living room into that balloon-and-crepe -paper-streamer-junior-high-gym of yesteryear. Play all the silly, sappy songs you can find and dance the night away!
  4. Move the celebration to the great outdoors. Pack a couple of sandwiches and some treats, download the NightSky app to your phone, wait for the sun to set, and have a Valentine’s picnic under the stars. Using the NightSky app, you can see the names of the constellations and find the sparkles that are actually planets!
  5. Help your kids understand the joy of doing something loving for someone else, rather than expecting to receive something. Dropping off fun valentine’s cards at senior living facilities or by leaving a simple bouquet on a neighbor’s porch can brighten the day for everyone.

Telling people we love them and value them is the best kind of valentine message, however you convey it, wrapped in conversation hearts or roses or not. Spread the love (and not the stress) this Valentine’s Day!

“In vain have I struggled. It will not do. My feelings will not be repressed.
You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you.”

Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice

Julie Lyles Carr is a best-selling author, podcaster, and entrepreneur living in Austin, Texas, with her husband Mike Carr. They have eight kids, two unfriendly cats, and an antique dachshund.