There are all kinds of ways to show someone you care on Valentine’s Day. A lot of those ways involve giving tokens of love.
Americans spent $21.8 billion on gifts to mark this annual celebration in 2021, according to the National Retail Federation, and most of that money went toward the classics — candy and flowers. But to express your appreciation, desire and adoration, you might want to get more creative.
If you’re after some serious swooning, put an unconventional spin on the holiday’s most popular gifts.
That means skipping “the traditional red roses or heart-shaped boxes of chocolate,” says John Wheaton, 61, from Hudson, Ohio. “You need to listen to cues, take a risk, and get something new.” Here are a few suggestions:
Chocolates and candy
A Whitman’s Sampler may be what its manufacturer Russell Stover calls “a timeless tradition,” but chocolate lovers will be in for a literal treat with novel takes on the V-Day staple.
Find a local chocolatier — or shop online — to have distinctive delights delivered from anywhere. In Boston, for example, Beacon Hill Chocolates works with artisan chocolate masters from Belgium, France, Switzerland, Italy, Brazil and the United States to offer small-batch, hand-painted chocolates.
Truffle collections include lavender, bacon, chai and other surprising flavors. Valentine Keepsake Boxes come with vintage cover images that have been decoupaged, hand-painted and sparkled. And for those who want their dessert tinged with the taste of booze, shop founder and owner Paula Barth, 59, developed a 12-piece collection of liquor-flavored truffles.
Presentation is important, so pay attention to the aesthetics of the box itself, says Barth: “The ‘wow factor’ is equally important as what you’re tasting.”
At Kate Weiser Chocolate in Dallas, meanwhile, you can build your own box of hand-painted bonbons — each of which takes six days to make — that have cute names such as “Cookie Monster” (vanilla bean ganache with cookie butter crunch) and “Ninja Turtle” (smooth, buttery caramel with ground, toasted pecans).
For candy lovers, consider putting together a package of favorite confections, and take it up a notch by adding a bit of trivia. A note accompanying a package of M&Ms, for instance, could explain how the candies were stamped with a black “m” in 1950 — to help consumers distinguish the real thing from imitators — before changing to the now-used white “m” in 1954.
Personalized jewelry can make another popular Valentine’s Day gift more meaningful. A bracelet engraved with a pet’s name. A pendant that holds the ashes of a special someone. A watch with a message on the clock face.
It’s all about “a unique piece that is completely different, that you can’t find anywhere else,” says Leanne Kolodziej, director at Jewelry by Johan in Oakdale, Minnesota (and daughter of owner Johan Rust).
The store specializes in pieces made with atypical materials. Among them are meteorite (perfect for “I love you to the moon and back” fans), antlers, and 110 different types of wood, including exotic varieties such as ironwood and koa.
Customization takes personalization one step further. Kolodziej says customers have brought in pieces of a baseball bat and workshop bench to be incorporated into rings.
Customized options online from retailers like Eve’s Addiction and Oak & Luna include monogram necklaces and name rings.
Flowers and Plants
Bouquets typically last only seven to 12 days — and that’s with proper care. A flower or plant subscription, on the other hand, can provide up to 12 months of greenery, with some companies offering various tiers of service.
Online company UrbanStems, which works with farms certified by the Rainforest Alliance, offers weekly, biweekly or monthly flower bouquet deliveries, with three plans catered to different floral tastes.
Subscriptions exist in the plant space as well. Lively Root, based in San Diego, California, offers a variety for gift recipients with and without green thumbs. Plans revolve around plants that are easy-care, pet-friendly, or rare and special.
Gift-givers of the “one-and-done” ilk might contemplate a sole plant, which can be enjoyed for years to come. One option from Lively Root is the tropical Flamingo Flower, a colorful year-round bloomer that yields a heart-shaped red leaf.
Ponder steering clear of tradition altogether with a homemade present, which tends to carry more weight because — presumably — you thought of it and had to put in some effort. Think three-page love letter, or framed photo of a shared memory.
Dana Lam, 51, once gave her boyfriend a box filled with 101 things she loves about him. She typed out phrases such as “I love that you live in the moment” and “I love your body,” then cut them into strips and delivered them in a small box.
“He tells people that’s his favorite gift I’ve ever given him,” says Lam, an entrepreneur from Phoenix. Lam says this project can “make a big splash” even with 20 compliments made with handwritten messages on construction paper.
Given the high number she was working with, she wound up searching for compliment ideas online because “sometimes I’m not super-creative,” she says. “I shamelessly steal from other people.”
Those who are crafty can use skills to create gifts that last a lifetime. Alinda Drury, 69, spent four or five hours on a terrycloth robe for her husband, Tom, in the mid-’80s. She chose blue material because blue is his favorite color.
“It’s nothing special, but I did make it,” says Drury, who lives in Rochester, New York. This past Christmas, she offered to make Tom a new robe because the original was “getting kind of grungy.”
He said no. Recalls Drury: “He said, ‘I love it and I’m going to keep it forever.’”
Robin L. Flanigan is a contributing writer who covers mental health, education and human-interest stories. Her work has appeared in People, USA Today and Education Week and she is the author of the children’s book M Is for Mindful.