The article has been authored by Yashica from Her Campus Delhi South and Alondra Burgos Servat from Her Campus at Berkeley and is a part of the Valentine’s Day collaboration between HC at Delhi South and HC at Berkeley. Through this piece, the writers aim to unravel how capitalism manifests itself in two different countries.
FLOWERS + CHOCOLATES = LOVE?
Valentine’s day is finally here; love and our bank accounts are in the air!
Valentine’s Day is a global event that has the ability to consume our minds and free time for a few months. What should I buy? Where should I set up for the date? Roses, teddy bears, or something different? These are some of the questions that have haunted us since the beginning of time. Nevertheless, where is the love? Does it get forgotten or misplaced by the burning need to consume? And if so, is it the same all around the world?
To resolve these questions, Her Campus UC Berkeley and Her Campus Delhi South have teamed up! We analyzed Valentine’s Day’s intrinsic relationship with capitalism and the different reactions and implications around professing love through material items.
We came up with five questions for each writer from the United States of America and India to answer so that we could compare our different experiences.
Let’s get into this 💕
1. What is the concept of love in both countries?
In Indian culture, love is supposed to be almost sacred. From the plays of Kalidasa to the poetry of Mirabai, the Indian concept of love has always been rooted in the idea of divinity. In contemporary India, however, this piety of love translates itself into fixed traditions. ‘Love’, then, is no longer free in Indian orthodoxy but, instead, is confined to the socially-sanctioned ideas of procreation and marriage.
The concept of arranged marriages is not alien to us Indians. To stay true to one’s caste and culture, most people do not marry out of love but out of social and familial obligations. While this systematic way of marriage (and love, if you are lucky) might sound convenient, its strain on genuine love connections cannot be overlooked.
So what is the solution?
Well, you can try throwing rose petals in the sky on a certain day in the month of February and use Valentine’s Day as a protest.
It does not matter what era you were born in because every person has had their rebellious lover phase. While Valentine’s Day has no actual origins in India, people here use this holiday as an excuse (or better yet, a reason) to talk about romance and love in an open space. Most Indian parents do not support their children’s dating lives, sometimes even when they are adults. And so, this festival of love is often used as a subversive tool by many young people.
In a study to examine what love signifies for Americans, researchers at Pennsylvania State University found that “behavioral actions—rather than purely verbal expressions—triggered more consensus as indicators of love.” Americans find simple acts like holding hands, hugging, or any action that indicates affection, as a way to portray and receive love. The saying “actions speak louder than words” seems very close to our truth.
As I questioned students at Berkeley about their definitions of love, I also discovered that students believe that love encompasses respect and understanding of each other’s limits and moments. One unnamed student said, “When you love someone, you know when they’re sad or stressed, and you know if they need you to talk, cheer, hug, or just give them their space.”
Love is having the flexibility to compromise and accommodate. Interesting enough, if love for Americans revolves around affective actions, why is Valentine’s Day all about material gifts?
Welcome to the chat, Capitalism.
Just by taking a look at the latest Pandora commercial, we can understand how the concept of love is distorted by society’s expectations. The “little acts of love” that Americans value most translate into jewelry. There is no better “gift of love” than a silver lock key charm and, of course, you cannot receive your gifts wearing something simple. A new dress, button-up shirt, or perfume have to be bought since it is a special day. One could even say that capitalism is the center of all of our holidays.
2. What is the history of Capitalistic practices in both countries?
According to an article by The History Channel, the tradition of card exchanges among Americans probably began in the 1700s, but it was not until 1840 that Esther A. Howland began to market them. The so-called “Mother of the Valentine,” started the business of “scrap,” which are elaborate creations with lace and colorful pictures.
Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, “an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year.” Valentine’s Day is the second holiday with the highest number of cards sent after Christmas, and that’s not a surprise since capitalism is very intrinsic to Americans.
Another of America’s most famous gifts for Valentine’s Day is the teddy bear. As Bears4U explains, “Introduced in 1902, this little friend quickly became the most loved and marketed gift as it has the premise of ‘providing a hug and feeling of warmth and love.’
Throughout history, Americans have sought gifts that show how much they love their partner. That is why red roses are also an all-time favorite. Since “the rose is said to be the favorite flower of Venus, the Goddess of love,” we can understand how irresistible and meaningful it is to give red roses to the person we love.
Valentine’s Day in India can be traced to the economic liberation in 1991 when globalization finally caught up with us, its hands covered in rose-colored streamers. In the 90s and early 2000s, this holiday was largely considered a Western concept. Most of us got to know about it only through American movies and television. This holiday and its love-filled bomb impacted the urban areas at first and soon, the effects trickled down to rural areas with the development of television broadcasting services in India.
Earlier, the commercial aspect of Valentine’s Day was confined to Archie’s greeting cards, teddy bears, hiked prices at the local florist, and romantic confessions among college students sided with a Cadbury’s chocolate. The prevalent tradition of arranged marriages often policed the open celebration of love but was not able to stop youngsters from exchanging flowers and going on movie dates.
But today, Valentine’s Day has gained popularity in India. The world has become more interconnected and Western traditions—along with capitalism—have flooded Indian society. Today, almost every company is pushing the idea of Valentine’s Day, with seasonal sales, social media posts, limited edition products, etc.
The commercial advertisements vary from super romantic and cheesy to witty and funny. No matter what the tone of commercials, it is clear that corporations have made Valentine’s Day their own heart-shaped package of banknotes. Most people realize that Valentine’s Day is around the corner only when shopping malls cover their big windows with pictures of a heterosexual couple laughing in each others’ arms.
3. How do these strikingly different societies view Valentine’s Day and its traditions?
With GenZ shaking away the older traditions, Valentine’s Day is now celebrated more openly. At the risk of homogenization, many traditions of Valentine’s Day in India tend to mimic western culture. There are candlelit dinners at fancy restaurants, special dates full of music and mirth and, let us not forget, Valentine’s Day gifts. Now, people make special plans, propose to each other, or even plan to get married on this day full of heart-shaped confetti.
While the celebration of love is an important part of February, the whole-going-on-dates concept is pretty new to the middle class of India. For some of these people, the idea of a pre-marital romantic relationship is quite radical.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day is almost a rebellion against the idea of marriage as the only social sanction of romantic love. Of course, not everyone is a rebel but most of them are lovers. Therefore, many people celebrate Valentine’s Day rather secretly. This is especially true for teenagers—they are the ones who want to celebrate it the most and the ones most policed by their strict Indian parents.
Valentine’s Day is such an essential holiday in American society that kids begin celebrating as early as elementary school by indulging in crafts, letters, and candy. Last week, I got a text from my mom with a picture of my five-year-old brother and the two letters he made at school. I dare to say that Americans’ exposure to Valentine’s Day is to the same degree as to Independence Day because it is a secular and profitable celebration. Americans grow up “knowing” what they have to spend to prove their love. Letters, teddy bears, chocolates, and red roses are part of the basic package that couples expect to give or receive.
An article published by the Association for Consumer Research, exposes the role marketing and media have in creating the need and expectation for consumer spending on Valentine’s Day. Months before this celebration, stores and advertisements are instantaneously pink and red. Images of couples, teddy bears, and watches inundate consumers because we need to buy the perfect gift.
It is worth noting, however, that the marketing of this holiday is primarily targeted toward males, “suggest[ing] pampering the female with a gift, card, dinner, and other purchased signs of affection.” The study results indicated that 63% of females interviewed expected to receive a gift(s) from their significant other.
Valentine’s Day capitalist practices began very early in American society. Over the years, these traditions remain strong and innovative. Whereas a few years ago this day was all about cards, roses, and teddy bears, now, there is pressure to find an out-of-the-ordinary gift. Whether it’s a trip, concert tickets, personalized gifts, or an exotic flower, the perfect gift always goes hand-in-hand with capitalism.
4. How do our personal experiences and perspectives differ in relation to Valentine’s Day practices?
I usually spend my Valentine’s Day just like any other day. When I was in high school, this day surely had the students buzzing with excitement as we would anticipate some drama among our peers—when a boy from another class would bring a rose for his crush who was already someone else’s girlfriend. But as an adult, I guess a sort of cynicism has sunk in—or maybe it is due to the fact that in India, Valentine’s Day is not a prominent part of everyday culture. The good part of February 14th is how beautiful everything looks; from decorated malls to the flood of flowers in the local markets, the world feels prettier. The sad part is the cost of all this plastic beauty. The prices of chocolates and flowers begin to rise as Valentine’s draws nearer. Single people weep on the internet while those in romantic relationships plan dates and exchange gifts.
What I do love about Valentine’s Day is its open celebration of love in all its forms. While the holiday is celebrated with a take on romantic love, one cannot help but be grateful for all kinds of love one has in their life. At the end of the day, you do not need to buy chocolate-covered strawberries or heart-shaped jewelry. Try gifting your loved ones a handmade card and tell them how much they mean to you. It will be enough.
As a Peruvian living in the United States, I can say that my culture resonates a lot with the capitalist way of celebrating Valentine’s Day. I get excited about planning a date, buying a new outfit, and getting a gift for my boyfriend. However, I value small details more than traditional gifts. Sure, red roses and a pink card are cute, but have you ever received a “normal” white paper where your partner writes about how much they love you? No, cheesy quotes, but real words? I love that. And blame me if I’m too influenced by romcoms, but cooking at home instead of going to a fancy restaurant is so much more special.
The US has certainly changed the way I buy gifts, though. I realized I care more about specific brands (probably because I see them everywhere—great job marketing campaigns). In general, though, my boyfriend and I have created a good balance between our cultures. This year, for example, we agreed not to buy gifts and just enjoy the day relaxing. However, I must admit that we both bought something cheap to “at least” give each other something– capitalism haunts us!
While I somewhat agree with the celebration revolving around capitalism ideas, I recognize that Americans have beautiful ways of showing love for others. I often see couples, families, friends, situationships, and single people reminding everyone that they should celebrate love in all shapes and forms. Love is not only for couples, and Americans have a great way of making everyone feel special and loved in their own way.
All in all…
Although capitalism is an intrinsic factor of Valentine’s Day, we consider it important to remember that this is a day to celebrate love. Just as there is no right or wrong way to love someone, there is no right or wrong way to celebrate this holiday. This is the perfect day to enjoy love as it is: something that you and your partner build. Or, on the other hand, to celebrate the pure love among family, friends, and yourself.