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The History and Business of Valentine’s Day


I have fond memories of my elementary school days of receiving cards and candy on every February 14th. I remember spending time organizing which card would go to each of my classmates. I also remember agonizing over what I would write to those special few girls in the class. By the end of the day, my decorated shoe-box would be filled with generic notes from our classmates, as well as lots of candy.

But how many of us knew then, or know now, the history of Valentine’s Day? Or how big Valentine’s Day business really is? Let’s explore.

A Muddled History of Valentine’s Day

The history of Valentine’s Day is shrouded in mystery – and some would say its origins are anything but romantic. Yet most historians agree that today’s holiday can trace its roots through both Roman and Christian history.

Many historians suggest that the ancient Romans are responsible for our modern Valentine’s Day because Emperor Claudius II (in the 3rd century) executed Saint Valentine on February 14th. Claudius outlawed marriage for young men because he believed that single men made better soldiers than those with wives. When it was discovered that Saint Valentine was performing secret marriages, he was put to death.

Other historians suggest that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February to “Christianize” the celebration of Lupercalia, which was a Roman fertility festival.

The Business of Valentine’s Day

No matter your historical perspective, no one can argue that in 1913, Valentine’s Day forever changed when a firm named Hallmark began mass-producing Valentine’s Day cards.

And today, Valentine’s Day is huge business:

  • According to the National Retail Federation, consumers in the U.S. will spend an estimated $19.6 billion on gifts for Valentine’s Day, up from $18.2 billion the previous year.
  • More than 10%, or $2 billion, will be spent on flowers. Valentine’s Day represents 13% of all annual flower sales.
  • 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 (2.6 billion cards are sent during Christmas).
  • Women purchase approximately 85% of all Valentine’s cards. Men buy 73% of all flowers purchased on Valentine’s Day.
  • 53% of women say they would end their relationship if they didn’t get something for Valentine’s Day.
  • The average amount we will each spend on Valentine’s Day in 2018 is $144.  (Please don’t tell my wife this number…)

Valentine’s Day & Financial Planning

Does robust Valentine’s Day spending signal a healthy economy? I don’t think so. Am I suggesting that you reduce Valentine’s spending so you can save extra for your college savings account? No way! So what financial lessons does Valentine’s Day provide? Not many. I just thought these statistics were interesting and fun.

I’d love to hear about your Valentine’s Day traditions. Maria and I exchanged cards and candy just like elementary schoolers. This year, after 28 years of marriage, I didn’t agonize at all with what to write.