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February 14, 2020

How Valentine’s Day became a multi-billion-dollar industry

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People around the world celebrate Valentine's Day as the holiday of love, but few in America love the holiday more than retail stores. As Christmas lights begin to dim, retailers eagerly anticipate selling billions of dollars’ worth of flowers, chocolates, greeting cards, jewelry and other merchandise for the February holiday.

So, how did Valentine’s Day become such a big deal in the United States? The holiday’s origins are rooted in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, which celebrated fertility and the coming of spring each February. At the end of the fifth century, Pope Gelasius sought to replace the pagan holiday with St. Valentine’s Day, commemorating a martyred priest named Valentine.

By the 1700s, Valentine's Day was a popular holiday throughout Europe celebrated with the exchange of handwritten notes and tokens of affection between lovers. In the 1840s, Esther Howland, known today as “The Mother of the American Valentine,” became the first person to commercialize Valentine’s Day when she began the New England Valentine Company to sell her mass-produced cards. Through business savvy and a deep understanding of her market, Howland built her business into a thriving empire, eventually grossing $100,000 annually (around $3 million in today’s money).

Over the next century and a half, Americans would only think bigger and more extravagantly on the holiday of love. Today, 55 percent of Americans are expected to participate in the holiday, and they are projected to spend upwards of $27 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts alone in 2020. That figure is up 32 percent from last year's Valentine's Day expenditures when Americans spent a then-record $20.7 billion. That means consumers will spend an average of $196.31 on significant others, family members, friends, classmates, co-workers, pets and more. 

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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