I won't dispute the charm of romance, whether it's fluttery and fresh or sweetened with age, but no admirer's bouquet of roses can compare to the enduring gift of good friends. Friends offer us laughter, hugs and shoulders to cry on. They are trusty compasses when we're having trouble finding our way. So what better way to celebrate this Valentine's Day than with friends far and wide?
It's not the norm here in the United States but in other countries like Finland and Estonia, Valentine's Day is referred to as "Friend's Day." In Guatemala and in El Salvador, Valentine's Day is known as "Día del Amor y la Amistad," which means "Day of Love and Friendship." These holidays don't leave anyone pining on the sidelines of unrequited love; rather, they encourage everyone to shower appreciation on friends and lovers alike.
In a nutshell, it doesn't matter if you're happily married or crossing your fingers for Cupid's arrow this Valentine's Day, you can guarantee yourself the rush of true love when you dote on your dearest gal pals. And if you're looking for ways to lavish them with affection but prefer to dodge the commercial candy-and-flowers routine, I have a few sweet notions up my sleeve to help you celebrate.
The girlfriend next door » If you're lucky, you have a few good friends nearby (maybe not next door, but at least in the same town). If so, grab 'em and cook up a Valentine's Day plan fit for a lady. Spare no lace, ribbons or organic chocolate. Break out the heart-shaped cookie cutters and pink satin. If you ask me, this holiday has "feminine" written all over it, so why not go with it?
Organize a "Girls Only" slumber party. Getting silly, frilly and fun is a wildly entertaining (and inexpensive) way to bond. Sometimes, we forget how therapeutic it can be to let our hair down among other women. Rent favorite movies, bake homemade goodies, and roll everyone's hair into rag curlers. Buy cheap pairs of flip-flops and transform them into starlet slippers with ribbons, lace and faux fur. The sky's the limit -- just leave room for lots of laughter and good old-fashioned girl talk.
If you're not a fan of all the frill, think more along the lines of a coffee get together, tea party, knitting night, or "mending mixer," where everyone brings her backlog of clothing to stitch. Getting together for a low-key activity that everyone appreciates is a sure way to treat your girlfriends to the kind of comfort and conversation that we so often lack in our daily lives. Just make sure there are enough heart-shaped cookies to go around!
For you "wild" women out there, how about a day hike? If your neck of the woods is blanketed in snow, make it an afternoon of cross-country skiing. Getting "down to earth" is one of the most gratifying experiences girlfriends can share. Between the fresh air and the mutual pumping of blood, there is a certain mix of liberation and dependence on one another that fortifies friendships like nothing else. Of course, in the spirit of Valentine's Day, your party can wear fluffy pink stocking caps or tie bows around your hiking poles. And don't forget the organic chocolate for celebrating at the summit.
"Catch up with friends afar" Just because your best buddy lives beyond arm's reach doesn't mean you can't make each other's day special. A token as seemingly trivial as a phone call can make more of a difference than you might expect. Dial her up, establish a good time to talk over cups of rose hip tea, and make it a date. While you're waiting for the moment to arrive, doll up your own surroundings for the occasion: a cozy chair, a special cup and saucer, a vase of flowers next to the phone. When you hear her voice on the line, it'll feel like she's right there, sharing the love.
And what about those long-lost girlfriends from high school? How fun would it be to connect after all these years? These days it's easier than ever. One of the biggest perks of modern cyber-surfing technology is connecting with friends who have fallen out of touch. Simply get online and search the social networking sites like Facebook and Myspace. Even if your friends have married since you last heard from them, they will likely be listed by both their maiden and married names, making them that much easier to track down for a virtual Valentine's Day reunion.
In 1847, Esther Allen Howland was inspired by English Valentine cards that her father sold in his Massachusetts stationery store and decided to make some of her own. Little did she know how popular her handmade creations would be, drawing $5,000 in orders! Undaunted by the challenge, Esther recruited four friends to help fulfill the orders in revolutionary, assembly-line style. They cut out small lithographs of sentimental subjects, placed them on glazed paper backgrounds, assembled layers of lace paper, ribbons and silk to frame the cards, and pasted printed sentiments within. The cards were an instant sensation, and Esther's business boomed. In 1881, she sold it to the George C. Whitney Co. and retired.