The evolution of Valentine's Day: How the industry created the holiday we know today

Do you know about the sad story behind Valentine’s Day? Do you know why we exchange cheesy cards and love letters? Learn more about how the Valentine’s Day celebration we know today came to be in this article!

Published on 2023-02-13

Not a rosy beginning

Picture Saint Valentine’s Day. Chances are you think of flowers, chocolate, and gifts (heart-shaped, mostly), a far cry from its bloody beginnings. The most widespread story about this holiday sets its origins in the third century. During the reign of Claudius II, Rome was at war. As the empire was declining, so was the number of young men who enlisted. According to Claudius II, young men wanted to marry and have a family more than they wanted to become soldiers, so he decided to ban marriages. Valentine, a priest, chose to disobey the decree by continuing to perform marriages for young couples in secret. Soon, Claudius found out and sentenced him to death. While imprisoned, awaiting his fate, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and sent her a heart-shaped letter which he signed: “Your Valentine”.

Say it with words

The first love poems that mentioned Valentine's Day date from the 15th century. However, the holiday became widespread across the USA, Canada, Mexico, France, and the UK only in the 18th century. Lovers would send cards decorated with lace, ribbons, and colorful lettering. While most were affectionate and romantic, some cards included puns and sassy remarks as some cruel souls would pick this day to let their loved ones know they had set their eyes elsewhere.

Thus, with lovers wanting to celebrate each other or ditching another with cheeky cards, a new industry was born. In the US, Esther Howard is the name behind the first enterprise of handmade cards made to make anyone fall in love. Her father owned a paper business, which allowed her to find the supplies to create beautiful handcrafted cards with ribbons and lace.

Demand grew so much that it became a big business known as the “New England Valentine Company”. Without delay, other companies started competing in the market, and soon the business diversified by offering a wide range of greeting cards yearlong.

At the start of the 20th century, the most famous greeting card company was born in 1910: Hallmark. Today, greeting cards are not as popular, and e-cards have not found their way into consumers' hearts. However, Valentine’s Day still champions cards as a way to celebrate, and greeting cards for this holiday make up 25% of all sales each year.

Say it with gifts

Valentine’s Day is a money-making machine; it is only second to Christmas when it comes to money spent by consumers. In the 1980s, other industries wanted in. Jewelry brands launched massive campaigns to make their way into the myriad of products deemed perfect for Valentine’s. The chocolate industry feels the love when 86% of consumers in the US say they plan to buy chocolate to celebrate the holiday. Other industries like lingerie and teddy bears also look forward to Valentine's.

Even those who decide not to celebrate the traditional way can buy funny and sarcastic mugs and t-shirts. Even restaurants and bars offer creative alternatives for people who prefer to have a night out with friends or to celebrate their singleness.

Valentine's is here to stay

Although it is often said that this is a made-up holiday intended to get consumers to spend, the truth is that people enjoy Valentine's Day and have done so for centuries. What is more, Valentine's is celebrated all around the world because love is universal.

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