Valentine's Day: Then and Now

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natalie | Saturday February 13, 2016

The history of Valentine’s Day and the story of St. Valentine remains a mystery to this day. It is known that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance and St. Valentine’s Day itself comes from both Christian and ancient Roman tradition, but who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with a day celebrating love?

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One story involving Valentine suggests that he may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still used today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is debatable, the stories all suggest him to be sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day at the end of the 5th century. It was not until much later, however, that the day became associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.

Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.

Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.” Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year after Christmas. Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all Valentine's Day cards.

These days it is common for Valentine’s Day to be associated with being a “Hallmark Holiday.” Many people resent it for creating unnecessary pressure on relationships and being over-marketed, however, it continues to be widely celebrated and many businesses enjoy a huge boom in sales. Around this time, all types of businesses tailor their advertisements to Valentine’s Day by offering special promotions, and for good reason: the average annual Valentine’s Day spending totals over $13 Billion. Women might purchase more cards than men, but men spend overall twice as much as women on Valentine's Day gifts. So in this case, an important marketing tip to remember is to focus on men as your target audience and market your products specifically to them. Only 16 percent of Valentine’s Day shopping is done online, however there is still a lot of online opportunity because online shoppers spend an average of 31 percent more than in-store shoppers. Create a Pinterest board with collections of products as suggestions to target last minute shoppers and focus on marketing your products to 25-34 year olds because they spend the most out of all age groups.

Happy Valentine's Day! What are your personal feelings about the holiday? Do you celebrate? Are you more inclined to buy a gift if it is on a special? Comment below!




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