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Every year for Valentine's Day, lovers around the world pull out all the stops for their sweethearts.

From traditional flowers or chocolate to more expensive gifts such as diamonds, the holiday is just as much about spending hard-earned cash as it is about love.

Last year, Valentine's Day consumerism reached the second-highest point in spending in the holiday's history, with a total of $23.9 billion, according to data released by the National Retail Federation (NRF). The largest consumer spending on Valentine's Day goods measured by NRF occurred in 2020, with a total of $27.4 billion. 

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For Feb. 14, 2023, the celebration of the holiday is expected to be on par with the previous year's spending total. 

So if you’re feeling the pressure to get your significant other the perfect gift for V-Day, it’s likely because the commercialization of the holiday is by capitalist design.

beautiful bouquet of colorful roses

A beautiful bouquet of colorful roses — which are often given to loved ones on Valentine's Day.  (iStock)

What are the origins of Valentine's Day?

There is much speculation and mystery over the true identity of St. Valentine and the holiday's exact origins, but it appears to be a combination of Christian and some pagan traditions. 

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes different Christian martyrs who were executed while trying to practice their faith or helping persecuted prisoners. 

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In one legend, Valentine acts as a priest in ancient Rome, performing marriage in secret for young lovers after Emperor Claudius II barred young men from marrying in the city so that they would stay in his army, according to History.com. After Valentine's descent was discovered, he was sentenced to death and beheaded by the emperor. 

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While the exact details behind the identity of the individual are mysterious and lack concrete historical records, most stories concerning the holiday's namesake seek to portray him as a romantic and heroic figure during the Christian persecution by the Romans.

Why do we celebrate Valentine's Day?

The modern Valentine's Day became more popular in Great Britain during the 17th century, with the tradition of written letters to emphasize an individual's affection for a lover in Britain by the 17th century. The printing technology that emerged at the dawn of the 20th century helped to popularize its influence across the English-speaking world.

However, the origins of how Valentine’s Day became a major commercial holiday apparently can be traced back to the United States.

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While the practice of gifting your Valentine greeting cards was a centuries-long tradition in England, where the holiday was birthed, it was not until Valentine’s Day was "rejuvenated" stateside in the mid-19th century that it saw its commercial boom, according to the Library of Congress.

At first, the Old World celebration was "often forgotten" and "easily neglected" by those in the U.S. Things took a turn in the 1840s when the holiday was transformed into something "not-to-be-missed," author Leigh Eric Schmidt wrote in his 1995 book, "Consumer Rites: The Buying & Selling of American Holidays."

Valentine's Day dinner set up with rose and champagne

Candy, greeting cards, flowers, an evening out and jewelry remain some of the most popular purchases. (iStock)

Merchants outside the card industry, such as jewelers, florists and confectioners, eventually joined the bandwagon.

"When merchants rediscovered the [holiday], the former transformed the latter, not vice versa, as merchants systematically extended the apparatus of the market into the realm of celebration," Schmidt wrote.

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However, while companies did not create the holiday and some of its traditions, they certainly capitalized on it. The most popular shopping destination last year was the online marketplace, visited by 41% of all Valentine's shoppers, followed by department stores (32%), discount stores (28%), and local and specialty shops (18%) and florists (17%), according to the NRF. 

Proposal on Valentine day concept

Valentine’s Day may be a traditional holiday about romance, but there’s nothing accidental about its tendency to hit your pockets. (iStock)

Candy (56%), greeting cards (40%), flowers (37%), an evening out (31%) and jewelry (22%) remain some of the most popular purchases.

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So while Valentine’s Day may be a traditional holiday about romance, there’s nothing accidental about its tendency to hit your pockets.