Each year at the beginning of February, U.S. corporations begin their Valentine’s Day deals and campaigns, with messages like “Get them something they’ll remember!” “Show them how much you love them!” Or, more recently, “Treat yourself!” That’s right — companies have started using a holiday centered around love and relationships to target single people.
But what are the origins of Valentine’s Day? For reference, the holiday is named after the Roman priest St. Valentine, who arranged secret marriages when marriage was outlawed. Before his execution, he sent a letter to his love, signing it “from your Valentine.” Though Romans had been celebrating a mid-February festival called Lupercalia for years as “the start of their springtime,” it wasn’t until 496 A.D. that the public decided to dedicate Feb. 14 to honor St. Valentine.
Since its implementation, the meaning of Valentine’s Day has evolved significantly. What began as a springtime celebration eventually transitioned into a day dedicated to expressing feelings of love. Today, Valentine’s Day can be about anything you want it to be — family, friendships, significant others or even yourself.
What’s unfortunate about the adaption of Valentine’s Day, however, is it has also led to increased commercialization, leading many to mock it as a “Hallmark Holiday.” This essentially means the holiday has become just another reason to buy cards, flowers, chocolates or in today’s over-commercialized world — pretty much anything.
Since last week, my inbox has been flooded with advertisements from huge retailers like Bath & Body Works, Vera Bradley and Francesca’s, each with catchy promotional quips about love, Valentine’s Day gifts and “treating yourself” to promote their products. Even Victoria’s Secret, a retailer many would expect to use Valentine’s Day as a way to promote their products as gifts, has switched their marketing campaign to promote “V-Day” as “Me-Day,” encouraging single women to buy themselves their products as a way of self-care, and using Valentine’s Day to justify it.
The amount of over-commercialization Valentine’s Day receives in the U.S. is sickening, and the way companies aim to manipulate young consumers like college students is unjust and unethical. If Victoria’s Secret tells me I need a new perfume, I’m gonna be more tempted to buy a new perfume. It’s that simple.
Especially for young and impressionable consumers such as college students, Valentine’s Day is used as another way for companies to convince us to buy things we don’t need, whether it’s for others or, in the age of self-care, for ourselves.
I’m all for the self-love and self-empowerment movement — I just don’t appreciate the way in which it’s being utilized to promote more commercial consumption.
I should admit I genuinely like Valentine’s Day. Dedicating one day out of every year to recognizing those you love and promoting all things roses, chocolate-raspberries and pink is a great thing. I just wish companies would stop trying to turn what is barely a holiday into a justification for gross over-consumption.
I think if St. Valentine could see the hyper-commercialized, over-marketed Valentine’s Day we’re faced with today, he would not be head over heels for it.
Courtney Degen ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.