Around campus, you can find preparations for Valentine’s Day in the works, from the array of festive pins found in the Tran Library to the paper decor sprinkling various halls, thanks to the diligence of RAs and Pacific staff. Last year’s edition, From God to Cherub: The Story of Cupid, detailed the emergence of Cupid as Valentine’s Day’s mascot, but this year’s edition will focus on how the remembrance of a beheaded priest turned into a multi-billion dollar enterprise.
Long after Saint Valentine became a martyr, Esther Howland was born to a bookstore and stationery shop owner in 1828. Growing up, her father’s shop was stocked with the higher-end cards found throughout Great Britain and other parts of Europe, something America had not yet capitalized on, as Valentine’s Day was not yet as booming in the States as we know it to be today. With young ambition, Esther started creating English-style cards out of paper rather than the lace used across the pond and selling them up and down markets at 75 cents a piece (or the equivalent of a $100 card today, if factoring in the average wages and monetary inflation over time). Her one-woman show quickly flourished into a business eventually known as the New England Valentine Co. At its height, Esther declared she was making between $50,000 and $75,000 a year, or around $1.5 million dollars today.
Around the same time that America was swooning over Ms. Howland’s embossed, hand-painted, and printed cards, the first heart-shaped box of chocolates was produced in 1868 by Richard Cadbury, the son of John Cadbury, founder of the Cadbury Cocoa and Chocolate Company. Previously, this same company had developed a unique-to-the-time method of extracting cocoa butter from the beans to make a more palatable “drinking chocolate.” An excess of this cocoa butter led Cadbury to experiment with different recipes, eventually creating various “eating chocolates.” Richard then designed a series of heart-shaped chocolate boxes to increase the sale of these chocolates, leading to a tradition lasting centuries. Today, over 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are sold in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day, with a price tag of about $613 million in sales last year.
Although the capitalists of the 19th century still have a chokehold on the Valentine’s Day market, flowers are the oldest tradition we hold close to our hearts. Giving your Valentine flowers, especially red roses, has been a tradition for over 500 years, thanks to Venus, as it was her favorite flower. Along with mythology, Charles II of Sweden in the 18th century, every flower known to man (at the time) was assigned a meaning, and sending flowers was a way to send non-verbal messages. Red roses symbolize romantic love and affection, while yellow roses convey friendship. The most popular flowers of February 14th are roses, lilies, orchids, sunflowers, and irises, all with various meanings depending on color, but all symbolizing in short, love, affection, and feelings of fondness and unity (except for orange lilies, which symbolize hatred). Sending secrets in the form of flowers has been out of fashion for decades, but it may be time to bring the practice back to life. This Valentine’s Day, send your partner Roses, white Jasmine, or even Honeysuckle to let them know the depths of your affection. And you never know, maybe you can forage your Valentine’s Day bouquet and count yourself out of the 2.3 billion dollars Valentine’s Day score that keeps florists laughing themselves to the bank. — Haley Berger