While Valentine’s Day was originally celebrated in measures of love and affection towards others, the holiday has since become an over-commercialized and materialistic concept. However, as COVID-19 has changed life and encouraged socially-distanced activities, Valentine’s Day may actually retain a shred of its original meaning this year.
Valentine’s Day is believed to come from one of three different martyred saints named either Valentine or Valentinus in the Roman Catholic religion. Among the legends, one claims that Valentine secretly performed marriage ceremonies for young couples in defiance of the Roman Emperor Claudius II ruling that outlawed marriage for young men so that they would become soldiers instead. Valentine is said to have been punished for trying to help persecuted Christians escape Roman prisons. While he was in jail, he supposedly sent greetings to a young woman he fell in love with.
Regardless of who the famous day is named after, Valentine’s Day has always been recognized as being the universal holiday of love. In recent years, however, the holiday’s true meaning of love and acts of appreciation seems to have been overshadowed by an effort to monetize endearment.
According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), Valentine’s Day shoppers contributed around $27.4 billion to the economy through gifts and retail sales from both department and online stores in 2020. This amount had increased from the $20.7 billion spent in 2019, and this trend continues to increase with each passing year. This spending consists of items directed towards significant others, friends, family members, pets and children’s classmates, among others.
No one would disagree with wanting to purchase a thoughtful gift for a significant other, but when did the holiday meant to represent love become so engulfed in materialism and consumerism? Not only do various businesses pressure potential buyers to purchase things with heavier price tags in order to please a significant other, but stressors can arise in a relationship if certain expectations aren’t met. This culture largely contributes to the falsehood that love is measured in price and the gravity of such gifts and can only be conveyed through money.
When speaking of relationships and their correlation with monetization on Valentine’s Day, expert Charles Lindholm stated the "building of a whole commercial enterprise on top of the experience of falling or being in love certainly demeans the experience."
Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people may actually stray from this commercialization and show their love without focusing on expensive gifts. People may be less likely to go out in general as many restrictions and social-distancing measures limit them from doing so. According to an NRF study, nearly three out of four people feel that celebrating the holiday this year is important given the state of the pandemic. This can easily be done by sharing simplistic gifts or quality time and structuring relationships on feelings instead of spending.
Regardless of its intention, love is one of the most powerful human emotions. Similar to other holidays such as Christmas and Easter, Valentine’s Day has strayed away from its original concept and become more about spending the most money, planning the most extravagant evenings out and posting the most impressive gifts from a significant other. Some safer and more affordable options to celebrate this year with COVID-19 could be Zoom dates, homemade meals, or ordering smaller and more personal gifts online.
Instead of quickly contributing to the idea that this day is nothing more than a “Hallmark Holiday,” people should be able to express their affections and sentiments in a genuine manner. Hopefully, the perspective we have gained on appreciating loved ones from the COVID-19 pandemic will bring people closer to celebrating from the heart, from home, without focusing on the money.