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Valentine’s Day Credit Card Savings

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For many of us, the countdown to February 14 brings with it an increasing level of stress as we struggle to find a great present, make a reservation at the right restaurant and, most importantly, find a way to pay for it all.

In support of your plight, CardHub has identified a number of ways to ease the pain that love inflicts on your wallet.  From seasonal discounts for existing cardholders to new cards offering the kinds of low rates and lucrative initial rewards bonuses you need to cure Cupid’s hangover, we’ve got you covered!

Existing Cardholder Discounts

Card Hub surveyed the nation’s largest credit card issuers to determine how they plan on expressing their love for their dear customers this Valentine’s Day.  Here’s what we learned:

American Express:

  • Blue Nile & Godiva Sync Offers: Connect your eligible Amex Card through Sync and get $50 back when you spend a total of $250 or more online at bluenile.com.Get $7.50 back 1x when you spend a total of $50 or more at Godiva boutiques or godiva.com with your connected Amex Card. (Bluenile Exp 3/17/14, Godiva Exp 2/14/2014)
  • American Express Travel: Currently offering a sale for Valentine’s Day travel. Book between Feb 2 – 6 and travel between Feb 4 – 17. Sale includes discounts and added amenities. You can learn more at www.amextravel.com

Barclaycard US:

Barclays is offering a number of Valentine’s Day discounts in partnership with Upromise. For example:

  • 15% Off: Proflowers
  • 12% Off: FTD Flowers & Gifts, Shari’s Berries, Red Envelope
  • 10% Off: Under Armour, 1-800-FLOWERS

Capital One:

Capital One’s World and Signature customers can use the company’s concierge service to book reservations at restaurants or order flowers for Valentine’s Day.


Chase Freedom cardholders have the opportunity to earn additional cash back throughout the year with Chase Freedom’s Cash Back Boost, which handpicks offers from popular retailers to make it easier to find something rewarding for every shopping season.  The following offers are available for Valentine’s Day:

  • Extra 15% Cash Back: ProFlowers
  • Extra 5% Cash Back: Blue Nile, Godiva, FTD, Victoria’s Secret, Hotels.com, Holiday Inn, Marriott, IHG


Discover is offering 5% cash back at restaurants and movie theaters this quarter. Plus, with Valentine’s Day on the horizon, cardmembers can earn cash back by shopping online through ShopDiscover, the company’s online portal offering 5-20% cash back. For reference, below is the full list of merchants participating in the ShopDiscover promotion:

  • 25% Cash Back: H&R Block, ProFlowers, Restaurant.com
  • 20% Cash Back: 1800Flowers, Bliss, FTD, Shari’s Berries, Teleflora, RedEnvelope
  • 15% Cash Back: AllPosters, Art.com, Brookstone, Fossil, Jewelry.com, Kmart, Lobster Gram, PUMA
  • 10% Cash Back: Bloomingdale’s, Godiva, Hanes, Macy’s, SaksFifthAvenue, Sears, Sephora, Starbucks, The Body Shop, Zales

Pentagon Federal Credit Union:

PenFed Visa cardholders can take advantage of two great Valentine’s Day merchant deals with Shoebuy.com or bluenile.com when they enroll in V.me by Visa.

Wells Fargo:

Credit card rewards customers can shop their favorite online retailers through Wells Fargo’s Earn More Mall® site to build rewards points balances and take advantage of special offers. In honor of Valentine’s Day, the online mall prominently features offers, such as discounts on flowers, travel and other treats, which are themed for this special occasion. There are over 900 online merchants to shop and cardholders can earn up to 16 bonus points per $1 in net purchases and take advantage of hundreds of discounts updated daily.

The Best Credit Cards for Valentine’s Day

You obviously won’t be able to get a new credit card in time for Valentine’s Day, but if you’ve been planning to go big with your present this year, you can certainly set yourself up for savings down the road.  Whether it’s a balance transfer deal that prevents Valentine’s Day interest from haunting you for months to come or an initial rewards bonus that enables you to give the gift of a spring or summer vacation, these cards will score you major points with both your Valentine and your bank account.

  • Paying Off Debt:  Slate Card from Chase – This card offers 0% on balance transfers for 15 months and doesn’t charge either a balance transfer fee or an annual fee.  You can therefore transfer any debt that you incur in the coming days to this card in order to avoid interest in the holiday’s aftermath.
  • Getting Some Extra Cash:  Chase Sapphire Preferred Card – Charging $3,000 to this card in the first three months will get you a 40,000-point initial rewards bonus, redeemable for $500 in travel accommodations or a $400 statement credit.That means you can use it to either effectively subsidize what you spend now or better afford a promised present down the line.
  • Scoring a Free TripBarclaycard Arrival Card – Spending at least $1,000 in the first three months that you have this card will get you 40,000 bonus miles, which you can redeem for $400 in travel expenses.In other words, this is a great card for making up for a lackluster Valentine’s Day with a nice weekend getaway! There is no annual fee for the first year ($89 thereafter).
  • Saving Everyday:  Blue Cash Preferred from American Express  — You get 6% cash back at supermarkets, 3% at gas stations and department stores, 1% everywhere else, and a $100 initial bonus for spending at least $1,000 during the first three months with this card.By using this card to save a little bit every day, you’ll be able to afford that family vacation or V-Day present you’ve had your eye on for a while now.
  • Improving Your Credit:  Harley-Davidson Secured Card – There’s nothing sexier than a good credit score!  Truthfully.  Good credit signals responsibility and saves you money – a lot of it.  They Harley-Davidson Secured Card can help put you on the path to such perks.It doesn’t charge an annual fee, and anyone can get approved for it as long as they place a refundable security deposit of at least $300.  The deposit will serve as your credit line, ensuring you won’t overspend, and as long as you pay on time every month the information that gets reported to the credit bureaus will be positive.

5 V-Day Savings Tips

  1.  Set a Budget:  It’s easy to overspend and difficult to prioritize if you aren’t sure how much you can afford to spend on a given item or occasion.  That’s true not only for Valentine’s Day, but for the rest of the year as well.  So, take stock of your disposable income, consider other savings goals, and settle on a number.  Then look for gifts that will fit the bill.  The upside of this is that it encourages creativity in the face of price constraints, which can therefore lead to more thoughtful (and effective) gift giving.
  2. Cash in Your Rewards:  If you’ve got a treasure trove of rewards stowed away (and I don’t just mean credit card rewards, by the way), now might be the time to put them to use.  In exploring this option, make sure to determine which method of redemption offers the most value.  For example, you’ll typically get more out of your points or miles by redeeming them for travel accommodations or gift cards than you will by putting them toward electronics or other specific goods.
  3. Buy Discounted Gift Cards:  You can buy gift cards at discounts of up to 25% (sometimes even more) through an online gift card exchange, like the one Card Hub operates.  You just might be able to get what you need in time for the big day too, since some of the gift cards will inevitably be sold by individuals in your area or will be available via e-mail.
  4. Comparison Shop:  Unless you’re in the market for something extremely rare, the odds are good that more than one merchant will offer whatever it is you’re looking for.  One of the easiest ways to save money is therefore to shop around for the lowest price before proceeding to checkout.
  5. Look for Daily Deals:  While you might be growing tired of endless e-mails from sites like Groupon and LivingSocial, paying especially close attention to them for at least one more week could really pay off.  Countless Valentine’s specials are going to be offered; you just need to be decisive when the right one catches your eye.

Valentine’s Day By The Numbers

Most Popular Valentine’s Day Gifts By Year & Type

Year Jewelry Gift Cards Candy Flowers Evening Out Greeting Cards Clothing Other
2014* 18.9% 14.0% 48.7% 37.3% 37.0% 51.2% 15.8% 10.9%
2013 19.7% 15.0% 51.0% 36.6% 36.2% 54.7% 15.6% 9.5%
2012 18.9% 13.3% 50.5% 36.0% 35.6% 52.0% 14.6% 10.4%
2011 17.3% 12.6% 47.5% 34.3% 34.6% 0.52.1% 14.4% 11.2%
2010 15.5% 11.2% 47.2% 35.6% 35.6% 54.9% 14.4% 11.7%
2009 16.0% 11.0% 45.8% 35.7% 47.0% 58.0% 10.2% 10.4%
2008 16.6% 12.3% 47.7% 35.9% 48.2% 56.8% 11.8% 10.1%
2007  17.9% 11.3% 48.4% 36.7% 45.3% 62.8% 11.6% 10.0%

*Reflects projected spending
** Numbers may exceed 100% in total due to double counting.

Projected Spending for Valentine’s Day 2014

Type of Gift Total Spending (in Billions)*
Candy $1.39
Flowers $1.93
Jewelry $3.94
Greeting Cards $1.02
Evening Out $3.54
Clothing $1.72
Gift Card/Gift Certificate $1.16

To Celebrate or Not to Celebrate

  • 46.2%: Of adults DO NOT plan to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year
  • 26%: The amount by which the number of non-celebrators has increased since the start of the financial crisis in 2007
  • 49.1%: Of Midwesterners are not planning to celebrate this year – the highest percentage of any region.

Greeting Cards

  • 1913: The Year Hallmark first offered Valentine’s Day cards
  • 1,200: Types of Valentine’s Day greeting cards are being offered by Hallmark in 2014 (a 14% decrease from last year)
  • 142 million: Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year
  • 2nd: Biggest greeting card event, behind Christmas


  • 45%: Of men believe flowers are an adequate Valentine’s Day present
  • 4%: Of women agree
  • 64%: Of men buy flowers for Valentine’s Day
  • 36%: Of women buy flowers for Valentine’s Day
  • 224 million: Estimated number of roses grown for Valentine’s Day in 2013
  • 20%: Amount by which the price of roses tends to increase around Valentine’s Day, based on supply and demand

Other Gifts

  • 1868: Year Richard Cadbury introduced the chocolate box
  • 33%: Of women want jewelry
  • 40%: Want a day at the spa
  • 20%: Of men want tickets to a sporting event

Travel & Dining

  • 37%: Of couples are planning an evening out in 2014
  • $3.54 billion: The amount they’ll spend on the festivities
  • $74.19: Average amount spent for an evening out on Valentine’s
  • 11%: Of Americans plan a weekend getaway for Valentine’s Day in 2014
  • $303: Average amount that Americans planning a Valentine’s weekend getaway will spend
  • $131: Nightly hotel rate in Las Vegas – the most popular Valentine’s Day destination in 2014

Looking for Love

  • 112: Single men in their 20s for every 100 women of the same age
  • 49: Single men 65 or older for every 100 single women of the same age
  • 393: Number of dating services nationwide

Data in this report is based on CardHub analysis as well as information from the National Retail Federation, Hallmark, OpenTable.com, American Express, and news reports.

Ask The Experts:  Examining the Economics of Love


  • Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?
  • To what extent is Valentine’s Day a major marketing/branding success?
  • Is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?
  • Are V-Day spending trends indicative of consumer sentiment & economic well-being?


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Joanne M. Frazier

Associate Professor, Department of Business and Economics, Montgomery College, Rockville

To what extent is Valentine’s Day a major marketing/branding success?

Of course Valentine’s Day is a stroke of marketing genius – marketing is about satisfying needs. Valentine’s Day exploits our deepest desires (Maslow’s hierarchy of needs says we must be accepted socially before we can feel esteem). So the need and desire to be loved is demonstrated with an endless litany of man-made expressions – a candy heart, roses, jewelry, a dinner out, a grand gesture that includes all of those things, etc. Whether an individual admits buying in or not, receiving these things is a demonstration of acceptance and love that leads to a higher level of personal esteem – I am loved enough to get these things, so I feel good about myself or I have not received these things and therefore I feel bad about myself.

From a branding standpoint, that depends on the work of the brand itself and how well they. Valentine’s Day is an event, not a brand.

I don’t follow the trends, but I do know that every restaurant of note is packed, every florist is busy and every CVS has lines of people buying cards and candy at the last minute. I personally assembled a variety of Valentine’s Day packages to everyone from my son in college, my girlfriends, and my sister, mom and niece. I made heart shaped cookies for my husband and neighbors, and was disappointed that we were out of town so I didn’t get my annual roses.

Is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?

I don’t think so.
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Darrin Duber-Smith

Professor, Department of Marketing, Metropolitan State University of Denver

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

When you consider all of the distractions with Black Friday taking away from Christmas, Valentine’s Day is very, very different. It’s really driven by female members of the population who want to be recognized for their contribution to society, and that’s the bottom line.

It’s a Hallmark Holiday, like Mother’s Day and Father’s Day, so it’s one of those compulsory, ‘if you don’t do this, this will happen’ kind of holidays. There’s a lot of guilt built into it, created to drive revenue. It’s loosely based on St. Valentine, but the idea of Valentine’s Day is really a creation of the companies – kind of like Santa was a creation of Coca-Cola. Not many people know that. That’s why he’s red and white. So they kind of took an ancient myth and then a real person who lived in Germany in the 1800s, and Coca-Cola kind of turned it into the image of Santa Claus that we all see. That’s a revenue driver too.

It’s insidious, isn’t it? But, you know, it ain’t goin’ away. It isn’t going away because it’s being driven by an entire gender. It’s part of our culture now. It’s just something you have to do.

Is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?

With the economy of robbing Peter to pay Paul, people will spend at different times of the year no matter what. This is one of those times of the year when people spend. So no, I really don’t see it losing its luster.

I see it as a very relevant part of our culture. It’s is definitely a very relevant part of our economy. It’s definitely a marketing machine. It’s kind of like Christmas, where people have been complaining that it’s too commercialized for decades, but has anybody really done anything about it?

There’s too much social pressure to participate. It’s not going to go away because of that social pressure.
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Vicki R. Lane

Associate Professor of Marketing, Business School, University of Colorado, Denver

Are V-Day spending trends indicative of consumer sentiment & economic well-being?

Consumer behavior is often symbolic about a person’s self-concept. That is certainly true about items bought to celebrate Valentine’s Day. A guy may feel he has to spend money, even when in short supply, on flowers, candy, dinner, or jewelry in order to live up to and project his self-image. The girl on the receiving end feels special when her friends exclaim enviously that her guy is a sweetheart. For a day, he is Prince Charming and she is a Disney Princess. Some of these same items can be bought a few days later for substantially less, perhaps discounted up to 50%. But they symbolize something unique when purchased on Valentine’s Day, when society prescribes.
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Jack Kasulis

Interim Division Director, Associate Professor of Marketing, Price College of Business, University of Oklahoma

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

The magnitude of sales reflects strong marketing.

To what extent is Valentine’s Day a major marketing/branding success?

Without the strong marketing push in terms of reminders, new gift ideas, and convenient delivery options, VD would not be as visible.

Is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?

Compared to fifty years ago, it is substantially stronger. Recent trends reflect a greater diversity in the way the day is expressed. This reveals an increasingly diverse population and an increased desire to provide a unique experience. Demand for individualization is associated with high levels of discretionary income.

Are V-Day spending trends indicative of consumer sentiment & economic well-being?

Economic well being influences the size of the gift, sentimentality is expressed regardless of economic conditions.
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Victor Harris

Assistant Professor & Extension Specialist, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

It would seem that it is more corporate influence since, originally, it was not based on romance at all but it was celebrated to commemorate the martyrdoms of several Christian saints named “Valentine.”

To what extent is Valentine’s Day a major marketing/branding success?

Apparently, over 190 million valentines are mailed each year along with chocolates, flowers, dinner, balloons, candy, etc. that are all now associated with celebrating Valentine’s Day. It has become a multi-billion dollar industry.

Is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?

I think so. It seems like some people are feeling the commercialism associated with forced romance. For those who aren’t in a romantic relationship, Valentine’s Day can also remind them of this fact and so Valentine’s Day may also become a negative experience for these people, as well. Many people simply feel pressure to spend money and to force romance rather than let it happen naturally.

Are V-Day spending trends indicative of consumer sentiment & economic well-being?

Great question. It would make sense that a higher SES level would generally equate to higher levels of spending on this and other holidays.
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Pat Pesci

Instructor of Hospitality Management, Kansas State University

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

I am not sure I know the history behind it. However, it appears to be a good reason to do something nice to that special person. I just got an e-mail from my local florist with suggestions for flowers.

To what extent is Valentine’s Day a major marketing/branding success?

I believe it helps give customers a reason to celebrate. Some people may stay home because “it’s too busy to go out” However, I have known some couples that have gone to a nice restaurant and have gotten engaged because of this event.

Is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?

It depends… A senior population with disposable incomes would be a good market. College students in the hospitality management program that work in restaurants like the tips on this busy day.

Are V-Day spending trends indicative of consumer sentiment & economic well-being?

The restaurant people tell me sales and spending are up. People need a reason to go out to dine and this is another option to many.
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Michael I. Norton

Associate Professor of Business Administration, Harvard Business School

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

One reason that Valentine’s Day (and other holidays – think Mother’s Day, and Thanksgiving) are important is that they serve to remind us to take time to value our social relationships. Giving gifts to our partners and to our mothers, and giving thanks while gathered with our families are all events that serve to bring people closer together, and there is nothing more important for human well-being than social connection and social support.

So, even though some holidays have become increasingly commercialized, the underlying meaning makes them an important rite with real benefits for those who participate in them.

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Janet Wagner

Associate Professor & Director, Center for Excellence in Service, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

Valentine’s Day and gift-giving is a tradition embedded in western culture, which is a very powerful force. The major corporate influence on celebrating it is to remind people that it occurs on February 14, and suggest gifts. Both forces are at work.

To what extent is Valentine’s Day a major marketing/branding success?

In marketing, we measure success in terms of our ability to meet performance goals. For retailers, this usually means reaching sales goals that were set earlier. Each retailer will determine whether or not the holiday is a success based on this metric.

You could consider Valentine’s Day a “branded” event. This is a good example of marketers being able to reinforce a set of positive associations (e.g., love) around a holiday.

Is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?

According to the NRF website, a smaller percentage of the population reports celebrating it this year. There is no evidence that this is part of a trend, however. Valentine’s Day doesn’t carry much in the way of political baggage, so I don’t expect it to become less popular.

The major reason for fewer people participating appears to be the economy. Another factor to consider is that what people say they are going to do in surveys and what they actually do is often different. As the holiday gets closer, people who say they aren’t going to buy gifts may, in fact, do so.
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James Dean

Professor, Department of English, University of Delaware

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

I would put it this way: Corporate influence continues to be very strong, but corporations are capitalizing on authentic emotions – romantic love – that have historical roots. People don’t necessarily know the history of Valentine’s Day, but they know it has been observed for a good long time, and I think that is part of the Day’s appeal.

It is a good excuse for honoring one’s partner during the chilly days of the year. Some companies will take advantage of the Day’s emotions better than others.

To what extent is Valentine’s Day a major marketing/branding success?

I have noticed that items on sale for VD appear in businesses – supermarkets and drug stores, for example – very quickly after Christmas/New Year’s. Media advertisements appear in newspapers and television reinforcing well-known brands such as the Whitman’s Sampler, Zales, and even Pajamagrams – supposedly a present for women but actually more of a gift to males.

I note, by the way, and I’m certrain you are aware, that Saudi Arabian authorities have banned the sale of all things red in anticipation of Muslims celebrating a non-Muslim holiday. Is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?

Valentine’s Day seems to have lost its spontaneity in many situations, but people will still express their emotions through romantic cards, flowers, or candies. Those are clichés, or course, but they also can have meaning.

To change your metaphor a bit, I would say that for some romantic lovers, Valentine’s Day does not have quite the same meaning as in the past. That may have more to do with the nature of love than the observances of Valentine’s Day. VD is perhaps in some danger of being hijacked, but celebrants will find a way to make the day their own.
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Angela Lee

Mechthild Esser Nemmers Professor of Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

Certain holidays that have religious origins such as Christmas, Easter and even Valentine’s Day do have legitimate historical roots. I think it is really a mix of corporate creations and historical roots that led to what people celebrate today.
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Nancy Armstrong

Gilbert, Louis, and Edward Lehrman Professor of English, Department of English, Duke University

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

A long history of corporate influence.

To what extent is Valentine’s Day a major marketing/branding success?

To a substantial extent. What else is it but a marketing/branding success without basis in any patriotic or religious event/holiday?

Are V-Day spending trends indicative of consumer sentiment & economic well-being?

For a while there, men were giving suburban wives little red Audis. Now we’re back to candy and dinners out.
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Cait Poynor Lamberton

Fryrear Faculty Fellow and Assistant Professor of Business Administration, University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

Valentine’s Day has deep historical roots, coming from the Feast or Commemoration of St. Valentine. This day is observed as a holy day by multiple Christian groups (though the date of its observance differs.)

The romantic connotations related to Valentine’s Day can probably be traced back to Chaucer, who aligned it with the time when birds might seek out their mates. Giving lacy ‘Valentines’ dates back to about the 1850’s in the US; the widespread commercialization of the holiday probably began in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.
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Tim Buzzell

Professor of Sociology, Department of History, Political Science & Sociology, Baker University

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

It seems to me that older calendrical rites like Valentine’s Day or Christmas are re-invented to meet the cultural themes of a particular period (note they don’t tend to disappear altogether). Holidays typically borrow from rituals of the past to construct re-arrangements for the present. I think holidays continually change. For example, February 14 was marked in Elizabethan England as a time for divination or commemorating love by writing on a slip of paper the name of someone you love. Customs of the time were associated with the fashions and tastes of Court. Aristocratic observances shaped cultural tastes and customs. Today we have borrowed this ritual of sending messages to someone we love and incorporated that into making our own Valentine greetings in grade school, or mailing a card, or sending flowers. So we re-invent practices to reflect the period. This is especially true for the more “established” holidays – that with centuries old traditions to borrow from.

But, new calendrical rites pop up as a result of more organized efforts to change social practice, led typically by what we call moral entrepreneurs. These leaders are good at framing a moral argument about honoring mother or someone you love to the extent that the frame resonates with others in society and achieves “widespread” support.

Fast forward to the 19th century – business (not Court) played a role in shaping fashion and taste around gift giving during holidays, including Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. Mother’s Day was placed on the calendar as a holiday thanks to the movement started by Anna Jarvis. This movement was characterized by religious themes, and its success was perhaps attributed to its fit with other cultural and social reforms of the early 1900s.

Some have concluded the religious movements during the 1910s and 1920s were in reaction to industrialization and social changes in family, agrarian life, and politics. For instance, the definition of motherhood and domesticity was changing during the Industrial Revolution. It seems Anna Jarvis put forth a moral argument for preserving a cultural image of motherhood that she feared might be lost in an era of expanding capitalism.

Eventually, it would appear that some early 20th century social movements then become transformed by late 20th century consumer frames. This goes back to your first question about the role of corporations. There is a historical ebb and flow here (perhaps we call it a cultural dialectic?) (Thanksgiving is another good example.)

I think each holiday has its own unique history and place in society. It seems to me that holy-days have to be understood in the broader social and cultural movements of their era.
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Heather Evans

Professor of Literature, Department of English, Queen’s University

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

While nostalgia or a yearning for what is believed to be traditional may play a role, the corporate influence seems to have predominated for quite some time. History may have inspired some of the customs and tropes with which we have become familiar, including the giving of greeting cards and small gifts, or the iconography of flowers, hearts and cherubic Cupids. But it took a concerted effort on the part of manufacturers and sellers to transform a relatively small-scale celebration into a spectacle on a grand scale. Significant corporate campaigns are evident in the middle of the nineteenth century, for instance, after interest in the festival had waned, and in the 1930s, after war had taken its toll on the celebration of Valentine’s Day.

In its early days, Valentine’s Day festivities among ordinary folk were marked by the drawing of lots to pair “lovers” for a day, games of divination designed to reveal a future lover or husband, or festive celebrations marked by raucous amusements with perhaps a hint of sexual license to make things interesting. In this sense, the historical Valentine’s Day was far more about bringing the community together for some fun and frolic, than it was about affirming the bonds between the members of individual couples or pairs of lovers. But bringing together a community for some lighthearted amusements is less lucrative than fostering expectations that every couple or pair of lovers should take the opportunity to demonstrate their love and affection for each other through dinners, flowers, confectionary, and gifts.

Perhaps the very earliest roots of our current Valentine’s Day spending mania are hinted at in the version of the festival as it was practiced among the aristocracy. In the late Middle Ages and early modern period, for instance, the giving of gifts and the presentation of amorous (often even sexually cheeky) rhymes or verses was part of the performance of courtly manners; here again, although these amusements involved the purchasing and giving of love tokens, the activities were more about collectively celebrating the performance of certain kinds of amatory behavior than they were about recognizing individual affective relationships.

In the nineteenth century, the tendency to associate the showing of love or affection with the showering of gifts was increasingly embraced by the growing middle class who relished any opportunity to display their socio-economic strengths.

Corporate influence is also evident in the efforts to revive customs after historical events have quieted them. For example, interest in Valentine’s Day lulled towards the end of the nineteenth century and even more so during and after the Great War. Greeting card manufacturers, confectioners, and florists actively campaigned to revive the holiday, contributing to a trajectory of Valentine’s Day spending that has increased, more or less, throughout the past half century or so.

To what extent is Valentine’s Day a major marketing/branding success?

In its current incarnation it is almost entirely a marketing or branding success. Few people know or attend to many of the old traditions associated with Valentine’s Day: how many people, for instance, practice some of the old rituals of divining a future lover that characterized Valentine’s Day entertainments in the eighteenth century?

The popularity of most festivals and holidays comes and goes over the centuries. An article in The London Times in 1932, for instance, notes that “An attempt initiated in 1926 by the late Sir Adolph Tuck [a major card manufacturer] to revive the old customs of celebrating St. Valentine’s Day. . . by the interchange of Valentine cards has. . . met with increasing success in the years that have followed.” This reminds us that the popularity of Valentine’s Day had waned in the early part of the twentieth century, in large part as resources that might have been used in greeting cards and confectionary packaging (e.g. foil) were redirected towards the war effort, and as war robbed people of their loved ones.

The history of greeting cards is itself telling of the extent to which Valentine’s Day celebrants have allowed their sentiments to be prescribed for them through commercial products and merchandise. The earliest Valentines were made by hand and required the giver to write his message by hand into the card. By the end of the eighteenth century, books (known as valentine writers) were available that offered verses and short sayings that might be written in to the card; the message in the card may have been composed by someone else, but at least it was inscribed into the card in the giver’s own hand. As commercial Valentine’s Day cards became increasingly available in the second half of the nineteenth century, they increasingly co-opted the role of expressing the giver’s supposed sentiments. Popular commercially manufactured greeting cards now are already likewise inscribed with a message, requiring the giver to do little more than address the card and sign his name. The card, or more accurately the manufacturer of the card, speaks for the Valentine giver. What used to be a unique, handmade vehicle through which to express individual and personal sentiments has become a means by which thousands of purchasers of the very same card might avoid articulating their affection or expressing unique or individual sentiments. The card has transformed from being an expression of one’s sentiments to being merely a display of one’s ability to select a good card that speaks on behalf of the purchaser.

Similarly, in the early days of commercially produced Valentine’s Day cards, the card was the gift. Manufacturers produced increasingly elaborate cards that might include lace or silk, feather, movable parts, perfume, a fan, or music. The card might be accompanied by a small gift – a pair of gloves, a pincushion, a handkerchief, or a small box of confectionary – but the focus was on the card as the gift; little more was required of the lover than the selection and presentation of a suitable card for the object of his affection. (At the same time, manufacturers and advertisers started encouraging consumers to think of valentines as suitable gifts for children, or for exchange between family members or same-sex friends, thereby significantly expanding the Valentine’s Day market.) In the later decades of the twentieth century, the card shifted to the background as larger gifts were touted as more meaningful measures of love and affection. Now the card typically serves as little more than a convenient cover letter for the real star of the show, whether it be chocolate, jewelry, or some other indulgence.

Is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?

Possibly, yes, but ebb and flow in popularity is characteristic of most holidays, festivals, and celebrations. Periodicals from the early decades of the nineteenth century, for instance, show relatively little interest in Valentine’s Day, but by mid-century, the holiday had taken on a new life, not coincidentally alongside the growth of the periodical press with its reliance on advertising, and the development of technologies and other socio-historical phenomena that allowed for the increasing ease and decreasing cost of production and mailing of greeting cards.

For decades, characteristic of sentiments associated with Valentine’s Day has been a certain cynicism about the supposedly manipulative and crass commercialism of the festival. But much like Christmas, which would hardly exist in a form that many of us would recognize were it not for commercial ventures and increased spending associated with it, Valentine’s Day exists as a product of advertising, marketing, manufacturing, and hospitality service; in short, it is a product of commercialism.

Where it may be failing people is through its emphasis on heterosexual amatory relationships. Much commercial merchandise may fail to appeal to people whose amatory relationships do not conform to conventional heterosexual normativity.

However, as people increasingly share the minutiae of their lives with masses of people via social media, their engagement with and performance of conventional Valentine’s Day rituals and customs are increasingly on display. It is no longer sufficient to give a bouquet of flowers and enjoy a quiet dinner in cozy restaurant when the whole world may be watching: writ large on the internet, such a conventional gesture pales in comparison with elaborately orchestrated song-and-dance expressions of eternal love or marriage proposals that are (perhaps narcissistically) displayed on YouTube for the whole world to covet, envy, or ridicule.

Are V-Day spending trends indicative of consumer sentiment & economic well-being?

Undoubtedly, consumer confidence in their financial security plays a role in the performance of Valentine’s Day spending.
Back to All Experts

Peter Marston

Professor, Department of Communication Studies, Mike Curb College of Arts, Media and Communication, California State University, Northridge

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

I think it is most accurate to say that Valentine’s Day is a cultural tradition. As such it has a certain history and as such it is serviced or exploited by commercial enterprises, depending upon one’s political view. At this point in time, it seems the commericial aspects are dominant, in part because of the ubiquity of Valentine’s Day messages in advertising and in part because the cultural tradition is fragmenting, with people choosing to abstain from participating (in what many perceive to be a backlash against the commercial aspects) and electing to find more personal ways of participating (including simple text or phone messages and the increasingly popular gifts in kind).

To what extent is Valentine’s Day a major marketing/branding success?

It is obviously a significant success as a lot of product is moved. However, this success is tempered by a general impression that the holiday is overly commerical. Much like Christmas, Valentine’s Day is a commerical success, but leaves a bad taste in mouths of many.

Is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?

I wouldn’t say luster, but I would say significance. Again, we have the fragmentation of the tradition with people doing their own thing rather than participating in more conventional ways. Another important aspect of the loss of significance over the last few decades is the emergence of President’s Day weekend as a common travel weekend. The effort directing toward planning and paying for President’s Day weekend activities was, in part, displaced the effort that may have been directed toward Valentine’s Day in the past. Similarly, many people are willing to accept less involved celebrations of Valentine’s Day as sort of a trade-off for more involved celebrations of President’s Day weekend.

Are V-Day spending trends indicative of consumer sentiment & economic well-being?

I wouldn’t say luster, but I would say significance. Again, we have the fragmentation of the tradition with people doing their own thing rather than participating in more conventional ways. Another important aspect of the loss of significance over the last few decades is the emergence of President’s Day weekend as a common travel weekend. The effort directing toward planning and paying for President’s Day weekend activities was, in part, displaced the effort that may have been directed toward Valentine’s Day in the past. Similarly, many people are willing to accept less involved celebrations of Valentine’s Day as sort of a trade-off for more involved celebrations of President’s Day weekend.
Back to All Experts

Jennifer Theiss

Associate Professor, School of Communication and Information, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Is Valentine’s Day based more in history or corporate influence?

The expectations that people have for Valentine’s Day are mostly socially constructed. We learn what is appropriate or expected for a romantic holiday as much by watching the romantic gestures of our friends and neighbors as we do by the commercials selling diamond earrings and bouquets of roses.

To what extent is Valentine’s Day a major marketing/branding success?

Given that people evaluate their relationship and sometimes make determinations of whether to stay together or break-up based on whether or not a partner lived up to some socially constructed corporate idea of romance, I would say that efforts to market the holiday are pretty successful.

Is Valentine’s Day losing its luster?

Interestingly, the month of February has the highest rate of break-ups compared to any other month. Couples are five times more likely to break up in February than any other month. Individuals may end their romantic relationship prior to Valentine’s Day to avoid the expense associated with the holiday, while those who make it through February 14 may break up afterward if they felt that their partner didn’t live up to expectations for a romantic holiday. I think this evidence suggests that the expectations surrounding Valentine’s Day are as strong as ever.

Image: Zaptik/Shutterstock

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