Valentine’s Day: expense not necessarily the hallmark of love

The loved-up can splurge on a ‘suite love affair’ or save on German retailers’ roses


That most loving day of the year is almost upon us. The cards have been sent, the flowers ordered, the chocolates bought, the champagne is chilling and the fantastically romantic (and not at all overcrowded or overpriced) restaurant has been booked.

What’s that? You’ve done none of these things? You think the whole notion of Valentine’s Day is a charade, a Hallmark holiday aimed at parting the love blind from their cash? You’re just going to run into a petrol station and buy some rubbish flowers tomorrow evening?

For shame.

Many Irish couples (or aspiring couples) will spend well in excess of €500 by midnight on Tuesday night once the cost of the roses, the card, the bottle of champagne, the thoughtful present and the “romantic” candlelit dinner which sees couples shoehorned into restaurants with tables pushed so close together that private conversations are impossible and force-fed “special menus” where the only special thing is the price.

Like or loathe Valentine’s Day, is happening so Pricewatch figured it might as well hop on the bandwagon. We set out to find out where the palaver started, how much the world spends, if we are being ripped off and if it ever okay to cut corners? We have also unearthed some natty conversational gambits in case you run out of things to say during an excruciating dinner in an overcrowded restaurant.

1 While it is impossible to know for sure, it seems likely that the Valentine’s Day we know and love started out as in the Roman feast of Lupercalia. You might complain about the commercialisation of Valentine’s Day today but it could be worse – much, much worse. Back in the day, Roman priests used to sacrifice a goat and a dog as Lupercalia dawned. They would then use strips of the animals’ hides dipped in blood to whip women with a view to boosting their fertility. Oh and there was also some class of matchmaking that saw bachelors plucking the names of soon-to-be “sweethearts” from clay urns – before whipping them with bloody hides.

2 Valentine put manners on the Romans, or at least diverted their attention from the killing and skinning of poor dogs. But who was he? Three Valentines earn themselves a mention in early martyrologies. There was a priest from Rome, a bishop the Italian town of Terni and another Valentine who came to a bloody end in Africa. The Terni bishop is widely regarded as the real deal. He is the one credited with marrying Roman soldiers on the sly to stop them being shipped off to war by emperor Claudius II and is reputed to have been executed and beheaded for refusing to renounce Christ. He signed a death note “From your Valentine.”

3 Where is he now, then? Well, there are several churches across Europe that claim to have him – or at least bits of him. His relics are said to be in Rome, Terni, Vienna, Prague and Glasgow. Oh, and Dublin, obviously. By some accounts Pope Gregory XVI was impressed in 1853 by the oratorical skills of a visiting Irish Carmelite called John Spratt– so impressed he gave Spratt some of Valentine’s blood and body parts as a gift. The Irish priest brought them back to his church on Dublin’s Whitefriar Street. The relics are still there and will be placed on the high altar tomorrow.

4 Valentine gets all the credit for the big day, when it really should be for the birds. Yes, the reason February 14th was chosen by medieval folk to be the day for lovers was because they reckoned it was the spring day when birds chose their mate.

5 People blame Hallmark for all the Valentine messing but card-sending was wildly popular hundreds of years ago, and goes right back to the 15th century. That was when Charles, Duke of Orleans, started sending amorous addresses to his wife to help him pass the time in the Tower of London, where he had been sent after he was captured in the Battle of Agincourt. The practice caught on and spread across Europe. In the 1820s, card-giving was so wildly popular that British post offices had to take on extra staff to cope on the days ahead of Valentine’s Day.

6 Sending cards is still pretty popular, even in the Tinder era. About a billion Valentine’s cards are sent globally. An Post delivers about 100,000 here. A stamp costs 72 cent, so collectively we spend €72,000 on posting cards. And if we allow just €2 for a card, the total spend on this most environmentally unfriendly – and kind of slow – declaration of love rises to more than €250,000. Globally, the spend will easily top €1 billion. Incidentally, 85 per cent of Valentine’s cards are bought by women.

7 It wasn’t until the late 1800s that food and Valentine’s Day hooked up. Back then, conversation lozenges were used to sweep people off their feet – think love hearts only not as sherberty. It was also in Victorian times that chocolate became associated with romance. You can blame Richard Cadbury for it. His was the first company to decorate boxes of chocolates with love motifs. The natty idea he had was recipients could hang on to the boxes and use them to hide secret love letters.

8 By rights February 14th should be known as Charles’s Day because one Charles gave us the cards and another one made Valentine’s flowers a thing. In the early part of the 18th century, Charles II of Sweden was introduced to a poetical art known as the “language of flowers” in Persia. He brought it home to Sweden, where it became a fad. Certain flowers became imbued with more meaning, with the red rose eventually adopted by true romantics.

9 As Valentine’s Day comes closer the price of roses spikes but bargains can still be had. Last week the MadFlowers website was selling “passion bouquets” for €49, down from €80. And what is a passion bouquet? According to MadFlowers it is “the best of the best, because she’s worth it!” He’s not worth it, apparently. More specifically, the bouquet is a dozen “rich velvet red large-headed grand prix roses with phoenix palm leaves, eucalyptus and gypsophila buds”.

For its part, Interflora was selling a “classic bouquet”. It is, they told us, “beautiful and wonderfully expressive” and made with “the finest-quality Freedom roses, carefully arranged and packaged to show off their natural beauty perfectly”. Spend another 19 quid and Interflora will throw in a vase. Although, truth be told, you could probably buy a vase in a pound shop for a fiver.

The big retailers are not ones to miss out on a selling opportunity and there is some excellent value to be found. Aldi is selling 100 – yes 100! – “specially selected sweetheart roses” for €39.99 while its “touch of romance” bouquet of 12 roses is on sale from today for €29.99. Lidl, meanwhile, is selling a dozen Naomi roses for €12.99. And you can also buy a single red rose for just €2.40. By any definition, these are great prices for great-looking roses but, as you can imagine, supplies are sure to be limited, so you’ll need to be super organised and be in the store early or you could end up disappointed and singing sadly to yourself “Where have all the flowers gone?”

10 Speaking of roses, florists will get a lot of flak this week for putting their prices up. But this is one occasion when we would be on the side of those upping their prices because they are not to blame. Prices climb worldwide because extra demand sees the cost of every link in the international flower chain increasing this week. African growers have to hire and pay extra staff, freight companies pay premiums and florists pay overtime to staff. A normal-sized flower shop can expect to shift a couple of hundred roses on a normal day, they might have to pack up and sell closer to 5,000 tomorrow.

11 Did we say African growers? Yes, yes we did. There is a very good chances the roses you will give or get this year will come from a field in either Kenya or Tanzania. They are cut there and transported in a refrigerated truck to an airport and flown – equally chilled – to Amsterdam – to be sold at auction to wholesalers who then distribute them to independent florists and retail chains here.

12 We’re suckers for a good price survey and came across one last week that was good news for Cork people and not so good news for people living in Dublin. Online florist Bloomy Days published its Valentine’s Day price index “to better understand the varying global costs of celebrating romance”. It totted up the cost of a dozen red roses, a day at a spa, dinner for two in a Michelin-starred restaurant with wine, cinema tickets and a night in a luxury hotel. Turns out that – of 50 cities reviewed, Cork was second cheapest with a total price for all those things coming in at a not too shabby €456.82. Dublin, meanwhile, was in 33rd place in the index, with an overall cost of €735.07 for the same activities.

Prague at €430.84 was the cheapest of the cities looked at and Los Angeles was the dearest at €1,237.45. For the cost of a romantic day in Los Angeles, two people could afford all the romantic activities in Cork and still have enough money left over for return flight Los Angeles-Prague over the Valentine’s period.

13 Mind you, the survey did say that the most affordable of the cities it surveyed for a Michelin-starred dinner with wine was Cork, with an average price of €121.95. The thing is, Mr Bloomy Days, Cork does not actually have any restaurants with such a star. When we checked that they said that in places “where the Michelin star system is not in use, we selected restaurants which met similar requirements in equivalent guides”. Hmm. The cost of eating in a Dublin restaurant was put at €234, which sounds about right.

14 That survey also told us that the cheapest place to buy a dozen red roses is Cape Town, where the average price is €20.88, while the most expensive city is Sydney, where the average price is €86.25. The cheapest city worldwide for a spa day for two is Toronto, where the cost was €50.37, with the most expensive city being Copenhagen where the cost is €134.52.

15 If money is not a concern for anyone loved-up in Ireland they should take a look a the “suite love affair” at the Intercontinental Hotel in Dublin. Its special Valentine’s package includes a “glass of the finest champagne on arrival”, oysters, red velvet cupcakes, long-stemmed roses, one night in the Pembroke suite, “a gourmet dinner”, spa treatments for two, breakfast, a late check-out and a chauffeur-driven limo to a private consultation with jeweller Paul Sheeran. And the cost? It starts at €2,100 per suite – and that doesn’t even cover the cost of the ring you may or may not end up buying in the jeweller’s. Bookings must be made 48 hours in advance, so if you want to do it tomorrow night you’ve kind of missed that boat. Sorry.

16 Fancy cutting the cost of Valentine’s Day while making yourself seem super-romantic? Go into any kitchen shop or big department store and buy some heart-shaped cookie cutters for less than a tenner. Make heart-shaped eggs, romantic pancakes and loved-up toast at a total cost of no more than a fiver. Get a cheap bottle of cava and some freshly-squeezed orange juice and add in a dozen roses from a German discounter, and you’re good to go for less than €60 all in.

17 It is too late for this year but it you want a natty idea for next year you should consider organising a date at Dublin Zoo. For €75 (at least that was the price this year) for two people, ticket-holders get special entry to the zoo from 8am. The deal includes a romantic breakfast and keeper talks on the courtship, breeding and exotic romantic rituals of some of the animals. We have never been sufficiently organised to actually do this thing but it seems kind of sweet to us.

18 Sushi-shaped Valentine’s chocolates, anyone? Nestlé has released a KitKat in Japan which is modelled on tuna, sea urchin and omelette sushis. The notion might sound gross but the sushi KitKats are probably lovely, made as they are with raspberry, mascarpone cheese and pumpkin pudding as well as sugar-coated puffed rice. Nestlé Japan’s marketing manager, Ryoji Maki, said the idea was to create a fun variation of the traditional chocolate bar in the run-up to Valentine’s Day. They are not actually for sale but anyone who spends more than 3,000 yen (€23) in Nestlé’s new KitKat store in Tokyo will receive a pack as a gift. “It’s the Valentine’s season, so I hope these ‘sushi’ chocolates can be an additional item to the chocolate gifts to make it more surprising and fun,” Maki said. Indeed.

We asked on Twitter what people thought about the day. To say the responses were less than positive would be an understatement.

“Hallmark holiday. Hate it. (Happily married.)” Victoria Murphy

“Getting screwed on Feb 14 in the name of love is a costly charade. Make your own Valentine’s Day and save yourself a lot of money.” Gary Griffin

“It’s absolute rubbish.” Pat Leyden

“The most threatening and fear-inducing of ‘holidays’.” Mary Duffy

“Pile of horse crap . . . or maybe I’m old.” Aoife Somers

“It’s a tiresome charade but, as a Scot, it’s rarely costly.” Johnnie Craig

“Pricey Hallmark day, what’s with the roses & chocolates, Prefer a simple gesture on any other day! Empty dishwasher – that’s love.” Joanne Kolbeins

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