“Sorry we’re fully booked”, “what should I get her?” , “What are your plans for Valentine’s day?” All sound familiar? With Valentine’s Day just mere minutes away, some people are already busy with their plans for the second most marketable holiday of the year, or the lack thereof. But the question is how did Valentine’s day end up being such a big holiday that encourages mass consumption? And how does the consumerism of love affect the ideals of love?
It all started long long ago in 300 B.C when the Romans celebrated a festival called “Lupercalia” from the 13th to the 15th of February to welcome the spring. They used to skin a goat or a dog and whip women with their hide which was believed to increase fertility. However, in the 5th century A.D, a pope decides to de-paganize the holiday by renaming it St Valentine’s day. Because some guy named Saint Valentine decides to do a thing or two for the sake of love depending on which version of the story you read and lo and behold it gets him killed in the process but of course not before sending a love letter to a girl and signing it with “from your Valentine” or so history have said. From then on, it was popularized as Valentine’s day, thanks to authors like Shakespeare for using the holiday for such a pious occasion celebrating love and thus created the tradition of sending flowers and handmade cards to express love in the day of love in 19th Century Europe.
However, soon after, companies such as Hallmark started to see the potential of commercializing the idea of love and Valentine’s day which led them to produce store-bought Valentine’s day cards for the lazy and as a result, sets traction for American consumerism. And America being America being a huge role model for the world, further popularized the holiday and soon the whole world followed.
Which leads us to today, after some hundred years of commercializing, Valentine’s day becomes a time where some people are willing to lose their heads for a fancy dinner reservation, ginormous bouquets and sparkling jewelry. This is even further boosted in the presence of social media.
Furthermore, the timing couldn’t be more perfect. Especially here in Indonesia where some people, usually teenagers (re: people of Chinese descent) just celebrated Chinese New Year where in which they had just received more money than usual by doing nothing but wishing wealth on one another. A perfect recipe for a glamorous, high-profitable day!
The transformation of Valentine’s day as a commercial holiday is quite hazardous to the idea of love as it demeans the idea of love because it materializes it and as a result makes love feel disingenuous. For example in the US, the average amount that a person spends on Valentine’s day gifts has risen $60 over the past ten years due to the newly formed belief that Valentine’s day is not just for significant others but for everyone you love including friends, family and yourself. This encourages the idea that single people can too spend money on the joyous day of February 14th. This leads us to the point that people nowadays think that spending money is essential to expressing one’s love. Which would not be an issue if everyone can afford it, the problem is quite obviously not everyone can. This poses a strain on some relationships if the expectations that were set by the partner are not met that results in businesses exploiting this insecurity and encourages them to purchase a gift with a higher price tag instead.
Furthermore, as this article has mentioned very briefly, social media acts as an extra pressure to have a perfect Valentine’s day. People scrolling along their following pages filled with pictures of their friends and influencer’s elaborate gifts and grand gestures are often inclined to join in and prove to their friends or even themselves that they too can have a perfect Valentine’s day or even a better Valentine’s day.
So, for this Valentine’s day, rather than just spending all your coins to large corporations without much of a thought, think about what your gifts would mean. Whether you choose to celebrate it with someone dear to you may it be a friend, a significant other, a sibling, third-wheeling your parents or even spending it alone in the comfort of your own fabulous company for some me-time make sure to spend it well.
written by: Carina
picture credit : Cupid’s Target from “Les Amours des Dieux” , 1758 by Francois Boucher