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Valentine’s Day Gifts for Friends

Published: February 8, 2011 | Last Updated: March 21, 2024 By | 1 Reply Continue Reading
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On Valentine's Day Gifts for Friends

In the 1800s, the first handmade Valentine’s Day cards weren’t intended only for lovers. They celebrated affection between friends and relatives. An ornate English Valentine from a friend charmed Esther Howland, one of the pioneers of the greeting card industry, to import lace and floral decorations from England and turn them into lacy cards.

Howland advertised in the Worcester, Massachusetts newspaper, The Daily Spy, in 1850, and her business grew so quickly that she had to enlist friends in an assembly-line operation to meet demand. Her sales are reported to have exceeded $100,000, a handy sum at the time for a female entrepreneur.

Admittedly, the day has been over-commercialized but it still remains a fitting day to express love and appreciation, in whatever way we choose, to the important people in our lives—which, of course, includes our friends.

I was delighted to speak to Dawn Bryan, author of the classic, The Art and Etiquette of Gift Giving, about some gift ideas for friends on Valentine’s Day and other days of celebration. A retail expert for more than 20 years, Bryan, a vivacious 75-year-old, is a former spokeswoman for Neiman Marcus, Waterford, Wedgwood, Gucci, and Hammacher Schlemmer, among others. Here are some of her suggestions:

Irene:  Why is it so important to find the right gift for a friend?

Dawn: Selecting a gift for a friend–old or new–can be a challenge as well as an opportunity. Your choice can establish or solidify a friendship, move it off dead center, transform it, or end it. The best friendship gifts are those that affirm the friendship by acknowledging that you know who your friend really is– his/her true passion, favorite cause, appreciation of opera, or love of a color, author or special tea. Use this intimate knowledge to select that special gift.

Irene: How is a gift an expression of friendship?

Dawn:  The value of a friendship can be measured, in part, by the quality of the gift it inspires. A gift that recognizes a friend’s concerns— giving a membership in or book relating to a peace/environmental/anti-violence organization or that appreciates his/her special interests by making a donation to a library, church, synagogue, food pantry, animal rescue, children’s fund, or hospital in the friend’s name says something about the quality of the giver, the receiver– and the friendship.

Irene: What are some of the best gifts for friends?

Dawn:  Most friends understand each other’s concerns, worries and problems as well as their desires. You can quickly strengthen a friendship by addressing one of her/his needs with a “Good-For” card that promises the most precious of gifts–your time and talent.

You could run certain errands, organize a closet or office, clean a garage, set up a yard sale, reveal and teach a favorite secret recipe, design a website, plant an herb garden, cook a meal, drive for someone, sit with child or pet, help to pick out color, then paint a room.

For my last birthday I received what for me was the perfect gift from a friend–her offer to stay in my home to care for my pets (one of whom needs regular medication) and plants while I traveled to a family graduation. This is not a gift one would ever ask for–or even expect–but it was perfect. As my friend, she knew I was stressed because I was having a difficult time locating someone reliable and available.

A gift you can share with your friend communicates the pleasure you have in the friendship. Quick and easy to find/arrange: Tickets to the theatre, a concert, ballet, circus or sports event; museum membership; tuition for a short course in wine or cheese tasting or flower arranging; a special day or weekend trip; a belly-dancing class; a game or puzzle; a book club; make-up lessons; a spa afternoon or day; a golf or fly fishing lesson; a tarot reading, joint cookie baking for a charity event; and health club or class memberships.

Irene:  You talk about “little luxuries” that might be appropriate for a special occasion like a milestone birthday. What are some gift ideas in that vein?

Dawn: I enjoy giving my friends what I call ” little luxuries” (ll’s). These could be anything small, luxurious and relatively inexpensive that one wouldn’t usually buy for oneself, i.e. padded satin hangers; calligraphy pen and ink; small soft leather diary or agenda; crock or jar of a special local honey with comb; fine china egg cup(s); linen hand towels; monogrammed paper hand towels; antique, unique collectible buttons; lingerie bags; cedar shoe/boot trees; a beautiful rock or mineral, paper napkins monogrammed with name of boat or vacation home; a kaleidoscope; an unusual pancake mix with real maple syrup; basket of bulbs such as freesia, a silk pocket square, a monogrammed bath sheet in a favorite color…

Gifts that continue to give throughout the year help to keep the friendship going. Most “gifts of the month”–many found online–can be ordered for 3, 6 or 12 months. In addition to the more traditional and lovely selections of flowers, plants, and sweets, there is truly something for everyone. You can order pickles, soups, puzzles, olives, golf balls, beef jerky, beer, and peanut butter and jelly combos!

Irene: Any final thoughts?

Dawn: Remember, always include a thoughtful personal message with your gift, whether it’s a Valentine’s Day gift or any other. The goal of the true giver is to give pleasure to another. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The only true gift is a portion of thyself.

N.B. Dawn created a company named Qualipedia, to provide expert advice for people who want to make quality choices in their daily decisions.

Also on The Friendship Blog:

When Exchanging Gifts Feels Awkward


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  1. Benita Wheeler says:

    I like that concept. It is how people used to grow up, even if they did not have the money, they spent a little bit on their wine glasses, china, or small trinkets.
    With mass production of things, people have gotten away from it.

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