"Reason is powerless in the expression of love."
– Jalal Eddin Muhammad Rumi
How did we get here? How did St. Valentine, an Italian Catholic persona from the Second Century, achieve a global celebration of his name?
This Valentine’s Day, millions of people around the world will profess their love to a significant other in the form of roses, a fancy dinner followed by chocolate, or a “valentine” letter.
In Egypt, this phenomenon has reached new proportions. Just ten years ago, the only mention of this holiday was on television screens or in the cinemas.
Today, flower shops around the city stand to make enormous profits over the occasion. Hotels distribute red roses to each of their female guests, while big name musicians rock out in concerts to loyal fans. Teenagers send each other YouTube videos and shop for dabdoobs (teddy bears) to share with their special partners. Most tourist establishment are filled with shiny pink plastic wall hangings and massive red "I love you" hearts.
It is ironic that a society in which religious conservatism is on the rise (exemplified by the spread of niqab, or face-veils, for example) will still celebrate a day that originated with a Catholic saint. Valentine’s Day was historically designated by Pope Gelasisus I to replace the pagan Roman festival called Lupercalia back in 492 AD. In 1969 the church removed it from the Catholic calendar of saints because of St. Valentine’s nebulous origins.
In the West, Valentine’s Day only really boomed after its designation as a Hallmark holiday, second in sales only to Christmas according to the Greeting Card Association in the United States. Similar to Christmas Day (which, incidentally, happens to be on another major pagan holiday, winter solstice) it is a time where corporations reap massive profits. It is especially abhorrent to see the spirit of the event transformed into a potential sales opportunity.
It is the corporate establishment that ultimately stands to gain from these events. Profit-driven enterprises, like chocolate companies and flower associations, ironically void of any emotion, capitalize on the hysteria which they help co-market.
In 2006, Egyptian government estimates claimed that flower sales on 14 February reached LE6 million, constituting 10 percent of total annual sales of flowers countrywide. In Egypt the money-making business of Valentine’s Day does not stop with flowers and chocolates. The list goes on to include millions of red teddy bears everywhere from the cheap ones in Attaba (LE5 each) to more expensive ones that can reach LE500 in the upscale stores of Zamalek and Mohandessin.