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* Dr Sushil K Sharma is an associate professor in meteorology at the Fiji National University. Views expressed are his and not of this newspaper.

WHILE we're still in the month of love, I'd like to share a bit about Valentine's Day on February 14, a special day in the year set aside to celebrate romance and love.

Some people give their loved ones chocolates, stuffed animals, teddy bears, boxes of chocolates and lots of hugs and kisses.

But not all nations value, care or even celebrate this occasion in an equal manner and intensity.

Valentine's Day, also called St Valentine's Day or the Feast of St Valentine, is an annual holiday celebrated on February 14. Originating as a Western Christian feast day honouring one or more early saints named Valentinus, Valentine's Day is now recognised as a significant cultural, religious, and commercial celebration of romance in many regions around the world, although it is not a public holiday in any country

Some nations like to spend an insane amount of money on this day — meaning that the commercial activity is at its peak with big businesses having a lucrative trade because of this "love is in the air" occasion. For many businesses in some nations that celebrate this occasion, romance and love, is used as a ploy to generate lots of income — that is "greed rules" in the name of "romance and love".

Valentine's Day has become a highly fruitful commercialised event, in a number of nations when literally billions of dollars are spent globally for an event that many celebrants, believers, participants of this festival of "candy and cupids" do not even know the origins or the history of the grand occasion that they are using as an excuse to woo, court, entice or flatter their loved ones.

Valentine's Day sales in the US reached the highest at $40.6 billion in 2016, for both singles and couples who celebrated in their own ways. About 50 per cent of adults in America identify themselves as singles.

Many people are buying gifts and experiences for friends, co-workers and pets rather than that special someone. We have no such statistics for Fiji at the moment.

A new survey from the National Retail Federation (NRF) projects US consumers will spend a total of $37.1b on their valentines this year, about $3b lower than last year. More than $8.5b of that will be spent on jewellery alone, with another $4.1b on flowers. Consumers are also expected to spend on cards, clothes, and an overall nice evening out on February 14. The average consumer spent $299.07 in 2016, while individuals are expected to spend an average of $278.15 this year.

It is intriguing to note that many people spend their money on gifts for their pets. In 2016, in the US alone, 19 per cent of population bought gifts for their pets, amassing a total expenditure of $1.4b. By any standard, this is an insane figure when we have hunger, disease, famine, poverty and myriads of other problems in this world.

Another notable fact is that 50 per cent of marriage proposals happen on Valentine's Day, and on Bing.com, rings generated the most search traffic during the first seven days of February.

In 2016, American consumers spent $9.3b on jewellery for Valentine's Day. A further $7.4b was spent in 2016 in the US on experiences alone such as theatre or comedy show tickets on this occasion.

Japan Valentine's Day is celebrated differently from Western countries. On Valentine's Day, Japanese women are expected to give chocolates to the men, some are given as courtesy or friendship gifts to male friends, colleagues or classmates, others are given to a women's "one true love".

The Japanese Valentine's Day vogue of today had its beginnings in 1936 and 1952 when a Kobe confectionery, Morozoff, used their shrewd commercialism in making the most of this custom, began a campaign calling on women to give chocolates to the man in their hearts.

In 1958, another Tokyo confectionery took up this campaign and the custom became an instant hit among young women. Around 1975, hoping that their luck would continue, White Day was conceived, which is a day coming one month after Valentine's Day where men give women whom they received chocolates from, chocolates back in return, which is really quite unnecessary.

The filthy rich of our global community could not even care less for the underprivileged people of this world, where fortunes are spent on things that could save lives in the third world. These expenses for an event or occasion that most do not even know anything about, especially the history or origins of Valentine's Day, is annoying indeed for some segments of our society.

Romans, from February 13 to 15, celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog and then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.

The Roman romantics "were drunk and naked", says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.

This brutal festival included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar.

The pair would then be, coupled up for the duration of the festival, or longer, if the match was right. Thus the ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love — St Valentine's Day.

This may be so, as Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on February 14 of different years in the 3rd century AD. Their execution was honoured by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St Valentine's Day.

Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St Valentine's Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been.

Lenski adds, "It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn't stop it from being a day of fertility and love."

Around the same time, the Normans celebrated Galatin's Day. Galatin meant "lover of women". That was likely confused with St Valentine's Day at some point, in part because they sound alike.

Further research shows that William Shakespeare helped romanticise Valentine's Day in his work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. As the years went on, the holiday grew sweeter. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticised it in their work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe.

Handmade paper cards became the token symbols for this special day in the Middle Ages. Eventually, the tradition made its way to the new world. The industrial revolution ushered in factory-made cards in the 19th century. And in 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, US began mass producing Valentine's Day cards.

February, it has been said, has not been the same since; however the internet and technological revolution of today has meant that cards have become almost obsolete today when messages are being sent via the internet especially for loves ones overseas, far away, or where it is not practical to give cards personally.

And so the celebration of Valentine's Day goes on, in varied ways, mainly in the Western world where commercial interests have propelled this occasion even further. Many will break the bank buying jewellery, chocolates, and flowers for their beloved.

Others, who are separated from their loved ones, will reminisce this day, and reflect on their past relationship and the good times that they had and of course will cry and shed tears for their loss. Some may even make attempts to reconnect with their loved ones, on this occasion, seeking forgiveness for their mistakes.

And of course, others will spend their night the same way the early Romans did, cuddled bereft of clothes like cupids and angels in love.

Source: The Fiji Times Online

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