Valentine’s day and shameless commercialism

Is Valentine’s Day just another way for greedy corporations to make loads of money? Has shameless commercialism ruined it? February 14 is a day when we celebrate love itself. It’s a day for romance in other words. At least that’s how many of us would like to think of it.

For some buttoned-down progressives, however, Valentine’s Day is no different than Christmas: it’s just an excuse for chocolate manufacturers, wine importers and fine dining establishments to squeeze the lower classes. The shelves are loaded with cheap confectionery and your mailbox is stuffed with half-off coupons for upper scale downtown restaurants. ‘Why can’t this be a day for celebrating love rather than the kind of gifts and restaurants we can afford?’ is the rallying cry of the anti-Valentine’s Day brigade.

I’ll admit, I do have some sympathy for this crowd. They make a point worth considering. If you see it as just another day for buying expensive gifts for your love one(s) you’re missing the point. It has a cultural expression as well in which love is celebrated as an ideal. However, it’s tough to do this when corporations have such an overbearing presence in our society that this aspect of the day is lost on us.

The anti-free market musketeers are not the only ones complaining about February 14. If you do a quick Google search, you’ll pull up a number of websites and blogs offering suggestions on how singles can spend Valentine’s Day in a non-romantic setting: the kind of suggestions for those who won’t be getting any Belgian chocolates or poetry plagiarized from Google.

Although, much of what you come across on these websites amounts to little more than vitriolic diatribes by people who spend February 14 raging at their ex’s Facebook page.

In any case, the ‘commercial’ aspect of Valentine’s Day can make it frustrating for some. Karen Datangel, for example, a lifestyle writer, says that even for couples “Valentine’s Day can actually be pretty darn annoying.”


“[W]hether or not you’re single or coupled up — [it] makes you want to go back to a simpler time when all you had to do was eat candy, give out little store-bought cards featuring our favorite pop culture characters, and not have to learn anything for about an hour in grade school. But now that we’re way past puberty, we’ve come to know the true meaning of Valentine’s Day, and if you’re not currently attached, it can be a dreaded day you wish you could skip every year,” Datangel said.

For many people, we’ve forgotten the true meaning of Valentine’s Day.Whether or not Valentine’s Day has its origins in ancient Roman festivals or the martyrs of the Christian Church is a debate I’m not prepared to resolve. The short answer is that we simply don’t know. What we do know for sure is that the celebration of February 14 as a day where couples exchange love letters, red roses and various kinds of sweets and treats starts to appear around the 15th century.

For those who see Valentine’s Day in its traditional sense, as a day where both couples and our broader society celebrate love as a cultural ideal, the influence of commercialism has muddled or polluted its expression.

According to the Statistics Brain Research Institute, annual spending on Valentine’s Day around the world is just a little over $13 billion per year. The number of Valentine’s Day cards that are exchanged annually is around 180 million and the number of roses produced is close to 200 million.

The institute also has some other interesting statistics as well: the per cent of consumers who celebrate Valentine’s Day is around 62 per cent. The per cent of women who would end their relationship if their partners gave them nothing for Valentine’s Day is 53 per cent, although that statistic seems a bit dodgy.

The per cent of women who send themselves flowers on Valentine’s Day, sadly, is 14 per cent. Average consumer spending on Valentine’s Day is $116.

However, when we read a figure like $13 billion it’s easy to see why the anti-Valentine’s Day crowd will complain that corporations and greedy Willy Wonka types have ruined the meaning of Valentine’s Day. While I have some sympathy for your case, I would argue don’t give your hopes up.

Yes, corporations like Hallmark have rendered Valentine’s Day into a shameless spectacle for generating revenues and for convincing us to buy crap we don’t need, but that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate the day and everything it stands for.

Everyone knows that you won’t find love in a hand-wrapped box of Norman Love Confections or at the bottom of a $100 bottle of Château-Grillet. The purpose of Valentine’s Day is to remind us that love is worth having and giving for its own sake. If you can understand that, you will understand why John Updike, the American novelist and poet, once said “We are most alive when we’re in love.” Take it to heart.

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