Valentine's Day is celebrated annually on February 14 (‚Äč‚ÄčCredit: Marco Verch/ CC-BY-SA-2.0/ Flickr)

On February 14, Americans will show their affection for family and friends with a gift or two. This display of love will not come cheap. The National Retail Federation (NRF) estimates that consumers will spend a record $25.8 billion, an average of $185.81 per person, on Valentine's Day in 2024. It is no wonder that US retailers love the holiday.

So, who was this Saint Valentine to whom they owe the windfall? According to one popular legend, Valentine was a Christian bishop who lived in Rome during the reign of Claudius II, around 269 AD. The emperor had outlawed marriage because he believed single men made better soldiers. But Valentine defied the order and secretly performed several weddings at his church.

When the emperor found out, he sentenced Valentine to death. While in prison, the young bishop fell in love with the warden's daughter. On February 14, the day of his execution, he left her a note. It was signed, "From Your Valentine." In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius I dedicated February 14 to Saint Valentine. The day became associated with love in the Middle Ages, and Valentine's Day was born.

Esther Howland was the first to sell Valentine's Day cards (Credit: CC-BY-SA-2.0)

While people did exchange handwritten love notes, it was Massachusetts businesswoman Esther Howland who popularized Valentine's Day greeting cards. Often called "The Mother of the American Valentine," she was the first to sell cards featuring messages of love. With over 145 million cards bought in the US annually and over a billion worldwide, Valentine's Day is now one of the biggest revenue generators for greeting card companies.

In 1861, Richard Cadbury came up with the ingenious idea of packaging bite-sized chocolates in heart-shaped boxes for Valentine's Day. They were an instant success, and another tradition was born. Americans now spend over a billion dollars on chocolates every February 14.

Valentine's Day spending is expected to set a new record in 2024 (Credit: National Retail Foundation/ CC-BY-SA 2.0)

Flowers are also very popular. About 40 percent of those who celebrate the holiday buy a bouquet or two for their loved ones. At inflated Valentine's Day prices, this adds up to $2.6 billion! The year's most romantic day is a favorite for wedding proposals. Hence, it is not surprising that over $6 billion is spent on fine jewelry.

With a quarter of Americans treating their loved ones to a 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 buy gifts for their pets, spending over $700 million on their furry friends.

Happy Valentine's Day!