Saints, dogs and cash all play a role.

Valentines Day Did you know Cupid, candy hearts, flowers and chocolates are common items associated with Valentine’s Day. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans now spend more than $20 billion lavishing gifts on their kids, friends and significant others.

But why?

Who decided a day in the middle of February is a time to celebrate love and spend a bunch of money on gifts? The actual story of how Valentine’s Day (and its symbols) got its wings, and how much Americans spend on gifts for Valentine’s Day, might surprise you.

  • It’s named after a Catholic saint (perhaps).
    There are stories of three different Catholic saints named Valentine who were involved in various romantic shenanigans. The tales involve conducting outlawed marriages, a secret relationship with a jailer’s daughter and a love letter ending in “from your Valentine.” Unfortunately, all three saints met a similar fate by being put to death by Caesar. How romantic! While it’s pretty clear Valentine’s Day derives from one of these three saints, no one knows which one for sure.
  • It may have started as a Pagan celebration.
    Ancient Pagan festivals were often very unusual, and this one is no exception. Historians believe it involved goat and dog sacrifices, using their blood-stained animal hides, and having a drawing for a companion for the next year. It’s safe to say that everyone, especially your dog, is relieved this tradition fizzled out at some point.
  • Its primary color, red, has scientific backing.
    Giving flowers, especially red roses, is a popular romantic gesture all the way back to the Saint Valentine era. Why red? It represents passion and desire. According to a study by the University of Rochester, science ties color to behavior. The study demonstrates that men find women wearing red attire more attractive.
  • Americans spend an average of $162 on gifts.
    While the percentage of Americans who celebrate Valentine’s Day has declined over the past decade (63% of Americans celebrated the holiday in 2009 compared to 51% in 2019), those who do celebrate Valentine’s Day spent an average of $162 on gifts in 2019 compared to $103 in 2009.

Knowing the history of Valentine’s Day and how the U.S. spends money on gifts for this special day certainly adds some intrigue to the holiday, but recreating the actual events is probably not a great idea. Instead, give your loved ones a hug, a simple treat and have a wonderful Valentine’s Day!