How Valentine's Day Became A Commercial Juggernaut

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Photo Credit: CCO Public Domain via Pixabay

Every February 14, people worldwide demonstrate their affection for family members, friends, teachers, and significant others with a gift or two. However, this display of love does not come cheap. The National Retail Federation say that 55% of Americans will celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, spending an average of $136.57 USD each. Though lower than the $146.84 USD expended in 2016, it will add a respectable $18 billion USD to the economy! It is no wonder that retailers love the holiday.

So who was this Saint Valentine to whom they owe the bonanza? According to a popular legend, Emperor Claudius II, who ruled the Roman Empire in 270 AD, believed single men made better soldiers because they were less distracted. He, therefore, made it illegal for them to get married. However, a bishop named Valentine defied the order and secretly officiated several wedding ceremonies at his church. When the Roman ruler found out, he sentenced Valentine to death. While in prison, the young bishop fell in love with the warden’s daughter and, just before his execution on February 14, sent her a note signed, From Your Valentine.

Photo Credit: Zemlinki CC 2.0 via Flickr

In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius dedicated February 14 to honor Saint Valentine. However, it was not until the Middle Ages that the day became associated with love. In 1861, Richard Cadbury, the second son of the founder of Cadbury's cocoa and chocolate company, came up with the ingenious idea of packaging bite-sized chocolates in heart-shaped boxes for Valentine’s Day. Not surprisingly, they were an instant success, and a tradition was born. Today, Americans spend over $1 billion USD handing out boxes of chocolates to their loved ones. Sweethearts, the heart-shaped candy with quirky little quotes, are also very popular. According to the manufacturer, a majority of the 8 billion pieces of candy made annually are sold between January 1 and February 14.

While people did exchange handwritten love notes, it was Massachusetts businesswoman Esther Howland who popularized Valentine’s Day greeting cards in America. Often called “The Mother of the American Valentine," the artist was the first to sell handmade lace paper cards featuring messages of love to retailers. With over 145 million cards bought in the US and over a billion worldwide, Valentine's Day is now one of the biggest revenue generators for greeting card companies. It is no wonder that the day is often referred to as a “Hallmark Holiday.”

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Flowers are also very popular. About 51% of people, primarily men, buy red roses for their loved ones. At prices that are specially inflated for Valentine’s Day, this adds up to $1.9 billion USD! Given that Valentine’s Day is very popular for wedding proposals, it should not come as a surprise that a bulk of the money spent on this day, over $4 billion USD, is used to buy fine jewelry. With a quarter of Americans treating their loved ones to a romantic meal, the day is also very lucrative for restaurant owners.

Humans are not the only ones that feel the love. One in five Americans also purchase gifts for their pets, spending a respectable $703 million USD! Pope Gelasius would have never envisioned that his tribute to Saint Valentine would evolve into such an anticipated and expensive celebration!

Happy Valentine's Day!

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Reading Comprehension (12 questions)

  1. What will people all over the world do on February 14?
  2. How many Americans will celebrate Valentine's Day this year?

Critical Thinking Challenge

Though candy is probably the most common Valentine’s Day gift, it...


Vocabulary in Context

“In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius dedicated February 14 to honor Saint Valentine.”

In the above sentence, the word dedicated most likely means:

(a) wholly committed to something, as...

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