• Is Valentine's Day just a marketing ploy? An investigation

    Alberto Barchetti

    New year, same story. As if January wasn’t enough with our failing new year’s resolutions its cloud-filled days, now we have to deal with February and its constant reminder of our relationship statuses.

    The funny thing is that we all react to it in our special contrasting ways. There’s the girl in your statistics class who won’t stop bragging about her mid-month escape to Paris with her boyfriend; there’s your brother who won’t stop complaining about the purposeless existence of this day – If you’re truly in love you don’t need a day to remind you of that, he says. And then there’s the rest of us, living in that limbo of acceptance and annoyance. We get the sentimentality of the day, but is there really a need for all this fuss? Is it really about soft feelings or is it more about selling chocolate?

    We dug into the holiday’s roots to clarify its actual origins, and to take a stand in its ever-running questioning.

    So, where did it all start? Surprise, surprise –History is not too sure on that. We’re certain that traditions of celebrating Valentine’s are present in both Christian and Roman history. Indeed, Christian history presents multiple saints with the same name. One of them was a priest in the third century who continued performing marriages to young soldiers despite the law prohibiting them to take the vow. Another legend describes Valentine as an imprisoned Christian who sent a letter to her beloved girl while still in prison. Some argue that’s where the expression “From Your Valentine” still in use today comes from.

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    Dear male readers take note: if this saint managed to be romantic and make history because of it while still in confinement, we’re sure you all can manage to send flowers. In case this historical example doesn’t convince you enough here’s another anecdote. Although Valentine’s greetings are known to have been in use since the Middle Ages, written notes only started appearing after the 15th century. The oldest one we have, now stored at the British Library in London, was written in 1415 by the duke of Orleans. And guess what? He was imprisoned too at the time after losing a battle, proving once again that you need to step up your game can look at the past for romantic examples.

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    Despite the day being celebrated consistently over the course of human history, it is not until 1840 that the holiday started to take the path towards the version of today. It was Esther A. Howland who on that year started to mass-produce Valentine’s cards to sell them to her customers. The American business woman started off after receiving a Valentine’s of her own, which at the time was uncommon in the US – the cards were imported from Europe and thus quite expensive. She then decided to make her own samples, which eventually became a huge success. She’s still named the “Mother of the American Valentine”.

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    Nowadays Valentine’s day is celebrated across multiple global cultures. It is estimated that 150 million cards and gifts are exchanged each year for the holiday, and that’s just the in the USA. With 62% of Americans celebrating on the 14th of February, Valentine’s has become one of the most commercialized days of the year, making the top of the list along with Christmas and New Year’s Day. What certainly started as a feelings-filled celebration has now took the form of also a profit-making tool. Remember in 2013 when Uber launched its campaign to date for the special day? Riders only needed to push on the rose button on their screen too have roses delivered to their partners. Truly romantic or truly convenient?

    Valentine’s day is filled with sweet promises just as much as it is with dollar bills, and it truly depends on each one of to make it one way or the other. What we can state with certainty is that taking one day to be more grateful for the people we care about doesn’t really sound that bad.