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The legend of St. Valentine

By William E. Lewis Jr.

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Feb. 13 2014 11:52 a.m. MST

For most consumers, Valentine’s Day is a day of affections and confections, a day of candy, kisses and flowers, diamonds and the perfectly worded greeting card. It's a day in which we celebrate love, when men are expected to pull out all the stops.

Whether in tough economic times or a recovering economy, purchasing lavish or extravagant gifts for that special someone may still be difficult today. While every woman dreams of flowers, diamonds and other jewelry for that once-a-year occasion, reminders of credit card bills from Christmas gifts prominently loom.

According to the National Retail Federation, consumers are expected to spend $17.3 billion — or an average of $133.91 this year — on Valentine’s Day. While up 2.2 percent from 2013, spending projections are down 6.9 percent as fewer consumers plan on giving this year.

The retail trade group reports that 54 percent of Americans will celebrate with their loved ones this year, compared to 60 percent in 2013.

“Valentine’s Day will continue to be a popular gift-giving event, even when consumers are frugal with their budgets. This is the one day of the year when millions find a way to show their loved ones they care,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Consumers can expect Cupid’s holiday to resemble the promotional holiday season we saw just a few months ago, as retailers recognize that their customers are still looking for the biggest bang for their buck.”

Just like Christmas is about more than giving gifts, so too is Valentine’s Day, but with a deeper meaning. The day in which we celebrate love and affection — Feb. 14 — has not always been so rosy.

The true romance of the celebration began with the legend of St. Valentine in roughly 270 A.D.

St. Valentine was a holy priest who was arrested and imprisoned for marrying Christian couples and for aiding Christians who were being persecuted during the reign of Claudius the Goth (Claudius II).

He was brought to prison and tortured in an attempt to make him renounce his Christian faith. When Valentine tried instead to convert Claudius, he was executed outside the Flaminian Gate on Feb. 14, about the year 270.

While awaiting execution, couples for whom Valentine had performed marriages brought flowers and gifts to show their respect and admiration. This led to our modern tradition of showering your special someone with gifts.

It is also said that St. Valentine, while imprisoned, fell in love with and restored the sight of his jailer’s blind daughter. That miracle led to his eventual canonization. Before his execution by beheading, he gave her a note saying “from your Valentine.” In 496 A.D. Pope Gelasius marked Feb. 14 as a celebration in honor of his martyrdom.

Although the story of St. Valentine is legend and a tale of true love that transcends mere sentiment, in modern times it has become more materialistic. Men are expected to shower their women with flowers, candy, jewelry and a romantic evening surrounded by candles and wine.

According to Shay, consumers will stay within discretionary budgets whether shopping for candy, flowers, jewelry or an evening out. While 19 percent plan on buying something sparkly, 48.7 percent will purchase candy, 37.3 percent will purchase flowers and 51.2 percent will send greeting cards. On Valentine’s Day, 37 percent plan on dining out with their special Valentine.

“Some people go over the top on Valentine’s Day but forget to show that same love and affection the other 364 days of the year,” Janine Miller told the Deseret News. “I enjoy Valentine’s Day but believe we should treat our loved ones special year round and not feel the pressure to go big on this one day.”

Men will spend an average of $108.38 on gifts — more than twice as much as women, who will spend $49.41 on their men. Consumers will not forget their pets either, as 19 percent will buy gifts for their furry friends, spending an average of $5.51, according to the NRF.

“If I do by chance get a gift from my boyfriend, it will be something that someone at work gave him combined with dinner at the same place we go all the time,” Melissa Cockcroft of Pinellas Park told the Deseret News. “He never buys me anything because he is just too cheap, not because he doesn’t care.”

Recent studies show that 73 percent of married couples have reduced overall spending since the recession. While men account for two-thirds of Valentine’s Day gift purchases, spending has fallen by 38 percent since 2008, a trend set to continue this year.

“I’ve always hated being pigeonholed to a specific date to do something nice,” Rico Petrocelli — married 38 years to wife Camille — told the Deseret News. “It doesn’t matter what day it is. I can do something special anytime of the year without the pressure of doing on one particular day. It’s not the cost of the gift, but the thought that counts.”

So maybe the best gift you can give this Valentine’s Day is one of yourself. In a recovering economy, reducing financial stress and strain may help keep your Valentine for many years to come.

Bill Lewis is principal of William E. Lewis Jr. & Associates, a solutions-based professional consulting firm specializing in the discriminating individual, business or governmental entity.

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