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Why Valentine’s Day is Just a Capatalistic Ploy

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at C Mich chapter.


Happy Valentine’s Day! Welcome to the most pointless major holiday out of the entire year. 

Today is the day our capitalist society convinces us that we must buy lavish gifts and fancy dinners for our loved ones. If we don’t, we must not really love them. Society is pretty successful at convincing us of this. Last year, Americans spent a total of $20.7 billion on Valentine’s Day, and that total is expected to increase to $27.4 billion this coming year. 

But Valentine’s Day wasn’t always about love. 

Valentine’s Day dates back to the time of Ancient Rome and the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia. Ancient Romans sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with these animals’ hides. Women would line up to be whipped by the hides because they believed it would make them fertile.

Valentine’s Day is also associated with the legend of St. Valentine. The Catholic Church recognizes at least three saints with the name Valentine. Two of these saints lived during the 3rd century and became martyrs after Emperor Claudius II executed them both on February 14th (though on different years). Another legend suggests that St. Valentine refers to a man that helped Christians escape from Roman prisons, who wrote a letter to his lover and signed it “From your Valentine.”

Then, in the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I attempted to override the pagan fertility festival and make February 14th St. Valentine’s Day in honor of the saints. Eventually, Shakespeare and Chaucer came on the scene, romanticizing and popularizing the holiday throughout Europe. 

Centuries later, once the Industrial Revolution hit, capitalism took hold. In the 1910s, Hallmark began mass producing Valentine’s Day cards. Ever since, capitalism makes the holiday flourish, creating marketing schemes that play on our desire for love and companionship and turn it into money.

Today, the advertising and marketing of Valentine’s Day creates a lot of pressure for many people. It pressures people in relationships to do something fancy for their significant other. This can lead to that person doing it out of expectation rather than true love, and they may feel they have to do it even if they can’t afford it. In turn, that leads to a lot of financial stress and potential heartache when your heart isn’t behind your actions.

Valentine’s Day can also negatively affect mental health. If someone is single or recently lost a loved one, the constant images and messages of love can trigger anxiety, depression, and general feelings of loneliness and depression. 

Finally, the marketing ploys of capitalism lead to an excessively wasteful holiday. One of the more common gifts is flowers, most of which are shipped from other countries. The environmental costs of this shipping are immense – the shipping by planes alone adds 360,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Additionally, when people feel pressure to buy gifts, they often don’t buy something meaningful, leading to the gift ending up in the garbage.

Overall, whether you are dating or single, being aware of how you are being manipulated by marketing can help improve your choices. Creating memories with your loved ones, such as baking cookies or going ice skating, is often much more meaningful than a last-minute vase of flowers and a card. 

More importantly, you should show your appreciation on more than one day a year. Randomly gifting some chocolate or a hand-written note in the middle of August can mean so much more than grocery store flowers on Valentine’s Day.

In the end, keep showing love because you want to, not because greedy capitalism tells you to. And if you feel you have no reason to celebrate today, then don’t. Just remember: you are loved.

Abigail Shepard is a junior at Central Michigan University studying music and psychology. She is the alto saxophone player in Kefi Quartet and the lead alto of CMU's Jazz Lab. She is also treasurer of To Write Love On Her Arms, a mental health advocacy group on campus, and an undergraduate researcher in the Psychology Department. Outside of school, Abigail loves drinking tea, petting cats, and exploring nature.