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The price of love

Lucas Yang

It is quite impossible to overlook Feb. 14 on any calendar. The date is almost always marked as Valentine’s Day, either in words or with a naked baby shooting an arrow. No worries if you skipped glancing at your planner—a walk past store windows or grocery aisles loaded with hearts, flowers, chocolates and rose-colored plushies will ensure you remember. For those of us who are online shopping or doom-scrolling our way to carpal tunnel syndrome, reminders pop up at frequent intervals. From heart-adorned tumblers to red and pink sweatshirts, no part of retail is spared from the Valentine’s Day frenzy. But when did Valentine’s Day become such a commercialized event? And what does that say about us?

Valentine’s Day began as an offshoot of the ancient Roman festival Lupercalia. Celebrated on the ides of February, the festival saw priests sacrifice goats, remove their clothes and run around whipping women with strips of goat hide to boost fertility. Men would choose women’s names from a jar and couple with them for the duration of the festival. Around the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I condemned Lupercalia and declared Feb. 14 a day to commemorate the death of Saint Valentine, who we do not know much about—we do not even know if he was one person. Legends say that Valentine was imprisoned by Roman Emperor Claudius II for helping persecuted Christians and was later executed for trying to convert the emperor. Before his execution, he tutored the jailer’s daughter and signed his last note to her, “From your Valentine.”

As time passed, poets associated the day with love since it coincided with the start of bird nesting season. The idea caught on and soon friends and couples were exchanging poems and cards all over Europe. At some point in the 20th century, Americans were inspired to mass-produce cards with lace and cupid ornaments, thus commencing the Valentine’s Day we know today. Now, consumers in the United States spend a total of $26 billion on candy, bouquets, jewelry and other items, along with the classic Valentine’s Day gifts. On average, Americans spend nearly $200 each. It has become one of the United States’ largest commercial holidays.

So, what started as a Roman fertility festival has now morphed into a retail extravaganza. Couples spend exorbitant amounts of money on one another, reducing the holiday to which and how many Valentine’s Day items they will get. Stores and online shops determinedly market their Valentine’s Day curated collections, filled with frothy lingerie, champagne, chocolates and crummy cards. Men spend nearly double than women on gifts, and women are objectified in every themed ad. Relationships are shrunk down to a commercial venture.

On top of that, Valentine’s Day reflects society’s obsession with coupling up. Most see the holiday as a day to express their undying affection for their mate or date via over-the-top, heart-filled gifts, and stores perpetuate this perception with their rosy reminders and ads. From young teens to old folks, no one is spared from the pressure. It compels younger people to pair up despite the joys of singledom and forces older individuals to pay up despite not caring for the whole charade. And this pressure, the idea that you will languish in despair without a mate, exists in all parts of society. Shows, movies and songs all portray romantic love as the center of our lives. News and tabloid websites hyperfocus on celebrity relationships, glamorizing every detail of coupledom and clamoring for pairs to get married—everything I know about Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce is against my will. The government even gives tax deductions to married couples, encouraging individuals to take part in an archaic institution and bind themselves to a mate to save money.

We would be better off celebrating Valentine’s Day as it is done in elementary school: There, exchanging cards and gifts is an expression of friendship, one of the most enduring forms of love. The festivities are fun and sweet, free from societal pressure. However, excessive candy and chocolate consumption has got to go, both among children and adults—nearly half of Americans are obese already. But regardless, we need to redefine Valentine’s Day on those terms. Rather than emptying our wallets and trying to woo our dates, we should simply express our love and appreciation for all the people we care about. There is so much more to love than romantic relationships.

Valentine’s Day has changed a lot since its odd beginnings. It started as a fertility festival, transformed into a day in memory of an elusive saint and is now a holiday where we spend to make mates and dates happy. But we do not have to succumb to society’s pressures. Let us make Valentine’s Day a day where we celebrate our relationships with our friends and family, spending time with the ones we love. Things filled with hearts and naked babies shooting arrows should not be the price of love.

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About the Contributors
Aambar Agarwal, Social Media Editor
Aambar Agarwal (she/her) is a third-year student racing toward majors in neuroscience and psychology and a minor in public health. In her free time, she can be found dabbling in art when not turning the pages of yet another book. She also enjoys hiking with her pals while inhaling pollen in the Metroparks.
Lucas Yang, Graphic Designer
Lucas Yang (he/him) is a second-year student studying computer science and English. He enjoys abandoning art projects, watching figure skating and distimming the doshes.

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