How Capitalism Has Shaped Our Culture Through Valentine’s Day


Photo by Beni Marquez

Zoe Toperosky (she/her), Editor

As we think back to the beginnings of Valentine’s Day, it looks entirely different than what is celebrated today. Although it is not quite known how Valentine’s Day began, we do know that at its beginning it was not about love. Suspected to have started as a Christian celebration to honor St. Valentine, the holiday has morphed into a corporate holiday coined by the sugar industry and greeting card companies. 

So how did we get to this point? How did we go from a Christian celebration to a day for celebrating love and romance? The answer: capitalism. And its effects took hundreds of years to see this shift. 

“It’s not going to happen overnight,” said Ken Muroka, the business and marketing teacher at Ida B. Wells High School. “But collectively, if multiple industries do this over a period of time, it will eventually change how people view it and perceive it. Those sorts of changes in culture happen in a very slow, very deliberate long period of time.”

When we take a closer look into the industries that shape the culture we know, we see that so much of it comes down to the sugar industry. “In the United States, we show love through sugar,” said Muroka. “And that’s been generated by the sugar industry and their trade organization.” 

When we think about it, that’s true. Muroka goes on to explain that sugar is a very present part of our American culture, “Birthdays we make people cakes, holidays, we make desserts, and Valentine’s Day was a great opportunity for the sugar industry, to say and develop this process of sending boxes of chocolates.” 

Chocolate boxes, edible flower bouquets, conversation hearts—all of these things are staples in the celebration of Valentine’s Day. And what all these things have in common is sugar. As the sugar industry continues to find innovative ways to creep into our daily lives, the more our American society becomes more dependent on its presence. 

We also see a role played by greeting card companies, as they have embedded this idea of giving cards to show our love for someone on Valentine’s Day. According to Muroka, this marketing strategy is an effective and positive thing. “The greeting card industry employs thousands of people. So if these corporate holidays start to dwindle and go away, then people’s jobs and livelihoods are impacted.” 

Muroka explains that these associations and ways of marketing do not have to be a negative phenomenon. The ways these companies market their products, specifically around holidays, have created tremendous strides toward the evolution of our society. 

Greeting card companies are another way that capitalism has influenced our culture and shifted the view of Valentine’s Day. When we think of companies like Hallmark and Season’s Greetings, we think of all the new products they release inspired by the holiday of love. With Hallmark in particular, we see their takeover of our stores and televisions as they release new movies and advertisements centered around Valentine’s Day as well as their numerous cards perfectly designed to give to your partner. 

As Valentine’s Day has become more of a corporate holiday, there becomes an increasing amount of publicity and profit flowing in. The more that companies can market their products, the more profit they will make, and the more profit they make, the more successful they become and the more they feel they need to create more and release more products for consumers to buy into. 

Our society is reliant on consumerism, whether we like it or not, and when we think about Valentine’s Day, our understanding of the holiday stems from the sugar industry and greeting card companies. We wouldn’t be where we are today without corporations pushing our society to evolve and adapt. Whether you view this as a positive or negative, Muroka says, “Don’t let it upset you too much, because we’re all consumers.”

However you chose to spend February 14th this year, looking back on the evolution of the holiday, and the role corporations play, gives us a deeper understanding of our American culture and helps us recognize the influence companies have on our daily lives and traditions.