The Value of Valentine’s

Love is in the air?

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Photograph: Jamie Golden

St Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, and if you’re anything like me you’re looking for an excuse to complain about it. The sad reality of Valentine’s Day is that it, like so many other holidays, has had much of its meaning pushed aside in the name of consumerism, and has been turned into an industry. What was once a tradition of exchanging handwritten notes of affection has been supplanted by buying mass produced cards for our significant others and spending hundreds of millions as a nation on chocolate and flowers.

Last year, Brits spent over £700 million on their valentines, an increase from £622 million the year before, and this year is projected to be even higher, so it’s clear this is not a trend that is going to die out soon. This ranks Valentine’s Day as the second in terms of money spent per person on various holidays, behind Christmas. Of course there is nothing wrong with spending money to make the person you love happy, and in that sense the holiday still retains some of its intended meaning, but the figures seem to point to a worrying conflation of degree of affection felt and money spent, where splashing out on jewellery or a holiday is seen as more romantic than a cheaper, less luxurious Valentine’s gift.

This mind-set seems strangely to permeate beyond the realms of romantic relationships, and into more unconventional relationships. For one, Brits are predicted to spend £210 million on their pets this Valentine’s Day, and in the US, almost 20% of Valentine’s Day gift recipients are pets. To make matters worse, many of the flowers people are having delivered to their pets are in fact toxic to them, leading to online florist Eflorist issue a warning as to what flowers can and can’t be sent to dogs and cats.

More understandable is the increasing popular trend of celebrating ‘Galentines Day’, popularised by the TV show Parks and Recreation, that falls the day before Valentine’s Day and involves women buying gifts for their female friends. But even this runs the risk of becoming another day in which money is used a symbol for love.

The issue at hand here is that Valentines has changed from a day on which you act out of love to a day on which you act out of obligation. Our feelings for others are used to make us feel as though we need to buy a heart shaped Pandora bracelet charm, or to reserve a table at a fancy restaurant.

Some might say that if you care for the person you shouldn’t have a problem with splashing out, or that Valentine’s Day provides a good excuse to spoil your other half, but this fundamentally misses the point. If you care for your partner you shouldn’t need an industry-approved day to buy them gifts or show affection, but businesses take advantage of the holiday in order to profit off of the feelings of their customers.