By Aria D. ’21
Are you in love? Probably not. But, do you know who is? Capitalism. Capitalism is in love with Valentine’s Day. By breaking this news, I run the risk of sounding like a cynical rom-com character whose heart is ultimately thawed in the end, but my message is no less true. This love affair may come as a shock to those who thought that the day was reserved for roses, chocolate, and those cookies with the hard frosting. What is often forgotten is the amount of money that goes into obtaining these classic items. According to the National Retail Federation, on average, men spend a whopping $229.94 on Valentine’s Day and women spend $97.99. The day has turned into a billion-dollar industry built off of insecurity and compensation. People in relationships flock to jewelers, florists, and the card aisle in order to prove a love that has managed to survive the other 364 days of the year without all material gifts. Meanwhile, most singles take the day to “treat themselves,” which the media has long portrayed as an opportunity to consume copious amounts of ice cream. Either way, regardless of relationship status, money is being spent.
How did Valentine’s Day become the perfect opportunity to suck wallets dry? Initially, Valentine’s Day had nothing to do with gifts. The holiday began circa 298 AD, during the life of St. Valentine himself. St. Valentine, a priest, was imprisoned under the anti-marriage totalitarian rule of emperor Claudius because he had been marrying couples in secret. He was executed on February 14th, the day that we now celebrate as Valentine’s Day. Clearly, the holiday is rooted in the power and commitment of love. However, it started to stray from its history in 1913, when Hallmark began to sell Valentine’s Day cards. The chocolate, flower, and jewelry industries got in on the game in the mid-80s. According to CNN, Valentine’s Day sales reached 18.6 billion in 2018 .
There is nothing wrong with wanting to buy a gift for a loved one. The problem is that the holiday isn’t about the loved ones anymore. Thanks to companies’ commitment to profiting off of the holiday, buying into corporate pressures is more of an expectation than a choice. We shouldn’t buy things because the shiny red hearts hanging from the ceiling of the CVS tell us that it’s time to. We shouldn’t justify a year of sub-par appreciation because we bought an expensive box of chocolates on February 14th. The story of St. Valentine is a celebration of love, not a chosen set of material items. If anything, Valentine’s Day has become an excuse to seem like a good partner by putting as little effort as possible into gifting. After all, the products pushed by corporations aren’t at all personal. They simply fall under the oddly homogenous label of “romantic.” If we are going to invest in small gifts for loved ones, shouldn’t we do more than walk down the same grocery aisle as everyone else? Ultimately, the use of holidays to push corporate agendas is not a new or unique thing. Christmas, Halloween, and Easter have all been turned into opportunities for profit. Valentine’s Day is a particularly popular one to call out because opposition to Valentine’s Day is seemingly opposition to traditional romance, and what is more “modern” and “cutting edge” than that? But before you pick up your torches and pitchforks, remember that love is not the enemy. Big corporations aren’t the enemy. The enemy is the pressure to show love through consumerism. Bury your loved ones under a pile of roses if that is how you express your love, but if you don’t want to, that’s okay too. Love is not a business, so don’t feel threatened to buy in.