Love can be celebrated by chocolates wrapped in a heart-shaped box, with pink desserts for Galentine’s Day, or with reservations at whatever fancy joint has availability. This is Valentine’s Day, it's a day filled with love, gifts, buying, spending and consuming for college students and adults alike. Let's see what it adds up to.

A Costly Celebration

Valentine’s Day isn’t the only holiday with food that impacts the economy in great swings; Easter attracts the candy-lovers, and the winter holidays keep grocery stores jam-packed. But Valentine’s Day concentrates the candlelit dates and chocolate rush around one specific day: Feb. 14. Overall, Valentine’s Day is a day known for its celebration of love, with friends or a significant other. In essence, it provides a time to recognize the love all around. In actuality, the increased commercialization of the holiday makes a large dent in the local and national economy, contributing to small businesses and chains alike.

Sydney Raslowsky

It’s the theme of parties, the plot of movies, and celebrated across the country by young and old couples alike. Like seemingly everything in this day and age, Valentine’s Day has been commercialized. It creates an economic boom and contributes to large revenues of small and large businesses alike. It no longer is socially sufficient to just buy a bag of KitKats or to eat takeout. The social standard for Valentine’s Day has been set by movies and social media for millennials and Gen-Z

Essentially, Valentine’s Day is a conglomeration of every couple’s anniversary on one day, so it’s no surprise that the chocolate shop lines are miles long and that you better have made a reservation, weeks in advance. On social media, Valentine’s Day becomes a game of “one-upping” each other. It’s a contest of who has the most lavish box of chocolates, the larges bouquet of flowers, and the cutest couple posts… because the commercialization of Valentine's Day has become a competition. A day which was once centered around love and appreciation, now revolves around money and gifts.

But where did this trend of over-spending for Valentine's Day stem from? This capitalistic design can be traced back to the popularization of Valentine cards. As elementary schoolers, millennials and gen-Z measured Valentine’s Day worth by how many little cards they aggregated in their decorated bags at school and admired whoever’s parents bought them the most extravagant cards. It’s not surprising that as young adults, those generations are so fixated on the prestige of gifts on Valentine’s Day.

Sydney Raslowsky

Breaking It Down

As a college student in Winston-Salem – a mid-sized North Carolina city – I dug into what it would cost someone to celebrate Valentine's Day in the way that society has idolized. A “Signature Chocolate Gift Set” from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory on Silas Creek Pkwy in Winston-Salem, rings up to $54.95, a sum that makes quite a dent in a college student or young working professional’s budget. When aggregated, chocolate shops rack up an influx of sales during the Valentine’s Day season. In Winston-Salem alone, chocolate manufacturers are omnipresent, such as Black Mountain Chocolate, Brasstown Chocolate, and even beloved chains like North Carolina based Dewey and nationwide chains such as Kilwins. Each of these stores have specific Valentine’s Day marketing and packages, as well as preorder and pickup systems to help alleviate the rush. Mass-produced chocolate like KitKats and 3 Musketeers are bucketed by the media as “Halloween candy” not fit for Valentine’s Day in which the local fudge shops and confectionaries advertise anywhere from billboards to Facebook ads. Cha-ching: $55 on chocolates… but 200 likes on Instagram!

Sydney Raslowsky

Restaurants know that Valentine’s Day is a prime money making opportunity and are booked solid for the holiday. Even establishments – such as Mozelle’s Fresh Southern Bistro on 4th Street in Winston-Salem – that are typically closed on Mondays, are open to capitalize on the date nights. A romantic dinner for two at Mozelle’s with appetizers (creamy edamame hummus and a decadent cheese plate), entrées (warming winter squash risotto and classic friend chicken with mac ‘n cheese and peach chutney), dessert (luscious flourless chocolate torte with raspberry sauce), drinks and tip easily surpasses $100.

Check this out about how other college communties celebrate the holiday: The Fordham Way.

The Numbers

This year, February 14th falls on a Monday… the day after Superbowl Sunday, to be exact. These two food-heavy holidays will certainly be keeping restaurants busy with catering orders for home Superbowl parties as well as date-night Valentine’s Day dinners. Barbecue, Pubs, and wing restaurants are likely to be packed with the Superbowl crowd on Sunday, followed immediately by packed fine-dining establishments on Monday. Whether your choice is wings and chili for the Superbowl or a candlelight romantic dinner, it’s likely you will be contributing to food establishments and the economy.

On a wider scope, the economy feels the positive effects of each box of chocolate purchased, and each meal shared by couples. In fact, a whopping 58 million pounds of chocolate are estimated to be purchased in the week leading up to February 14 (The Daily Meal). Even with inflation at a 40-year-high, spending on Valentine’s Day isn’t expected to ease up. The reopening of many restaurants for in-person dining is especially appealing to those who had a modified Valentine’s Day due to Covid last year.

According to Statista, 53% of Americans are expected to celebrate the holiday this year. Additionally, (when people went out to dinner, like they are expected to this year) in 2022, consumers are estimated to be spending $24 billion on Valentine’s Day goods. This number is astronomical compared to the $14.1 billion spent for Valentine's Day in 2010 (Statista). Valentine’s Day has been celebrated for years upon years, but never in the same showy way as it’s being celebrated now. It’s not like there are more couples in the world today compared to 2010, but instead more spending.

When you’re biting into your chocolate truffle or twirling your pasta at a candlelight dinner, just imagine the millions of people doing and spending the same. Also remember that at the heart of the holiday is a celebration of love, not a competition of gifts, wealth, and prestige.