Business Unusual

Why we celebrate a saints day with commercial things to show love

You may have some or all of the following as part of your Valentine’s Day plans.

A fancy restaurant, some flowers and chocolates. Perhaps a cuddly bear with some diamond earrings. It may be some sexy underwear or just a card to say I love you.

These well-known items did not just appear as signs of our love, we were convinced that they were the best way to show our love and this is how that happened.

The restaurant is an invention of the French, Paris, in fact, was the first to offer this dining experience, separate from the taverns and travellers' lodges, these establishments were more sophisticated and offered restaurants as menu items. The word refers to a kind of meat-based broth that would restore the diner. The act of taking someone to be restored has been a popular way to woo a love since they started in the 1700s.

You may be happy to lose your heart for love, but buying flowers at one point could have cost you your shirt. While humans have exchanged flowers forever, it became more of a thing as Europe became more wealthy and were taken with the impressive tulips cultivated in Turkey.

They were grown all over Europe but really took hold in the Netherlands. At one point in the mid-1600s the demand for the flowers and the bulbs sparked a price spike that is considered to be one of the first speculative bubbles. It was not just riches that helped drive demand. In Turkey, flowers became a way to communicate, with each bloom, size and colour having a particular meaning.

Floriography was a hit with the Victorians who would use flowers to do their talking on matters of the heart.

It was no doubt helped by writers like Shakespeare who would use the beautiful plants in many of his plays to endear women and convince men of their wooing powers.

That makes good sense, the language of love with flowers and a feast for all the senses with fine food.

Cocoa trees and humans eating them dates back over 3000 years in South America. When Spanish colonists first tasted it, it was most likely the alcoholic drink made from the chocolate fruit, the delights of the beans came later. Its place as a food favourite was established by the time it was classified and given its Latin name Theobroma, “Food of the Gods”.

Various processes are required to make chocolate including fermenting, roasting, rolling and blending. It takes a lot of beans to make a kilogram of chocolate and it was traditionally an expensive treat. Offering something expensive and tasty was as good bet then as it is now to show and receive affection.

This cartoon inspired the creation of the first Teddy bear.

If you were planning on giving your loved one a teddy bear or similar stuffed animal as a sign of your love, then you have an American President to thank for its popularity.

Theodore Roosevelt was hunting bears in 1902 and was offered the chance to shoot one that had been captured, he refused. A cartoonist sketched the potential scene which gave a stuffed toymaker the idea to make a toy version of the bear and called it Teddy's bear.

Underwear as gifts is quite recent although the term used for lingerie is much older. Originally women would simply buy it for themselves, styles and tastes changed as new fabrics and materials allowed for better fitting, more comfortable and more flattering items to be created.

Men buying underwear became a lot more popular after the founding of Victoria’s Secret in the 70s. Besides actively selling to women, the stores were set up to encourage men to buy items for their partners.

Today global sales exceed $20 billion for all items, with the US surveys suggesting 18% of Valentines give clothing as a gift and it is likely that the clothing is underwear.

The Eureka diamond (now the O'Reilly diamond) is regarded as the first to be discovered in South Africa.

Then there is jewellery and diamonds are at the top of the list. They are most strongly associated with marriage and while engagement did involve gifts before the typical diamond engagement ring and the earliest was hundreds of years ago, the de facto giving of diamonds to show lasting love is more of an invention than a cultural convention.

The reason for most humans giving diamond engagement rings can be attributed to the efforts of the De Beers Diamond mines and some slick marketing in the US. In a comprehensive Atlantic article from 1982, the long and detailed plan and success is explained, thanks to the large diamond discoveries in South Africa and the power of advertising.

Lastly, we come the person or persons that the holiday is named after St Valentine. There are multiple martyrs who may be a part of the name, but the most notable was a roman priest that was found guilty of marrying Christians (which was illegal) and executed on 14 February.

It appears that the popularity of the holiday began with writers including the saint of love in their works. As printing became more widespread the opportunity to give a loved one a greeting card grew, it most likely helped drive the popularity of all the other gifts already listed and while card giving has been most popular until very recently, the ability to send digital versions has all but ended the once popular practice.

So if you are not planning anything perhaps you should, and if the gifts above are not in your price range, a handwritten note to your loved one may be just the thing to respect the original intention of day and remind those you love that you do.


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