Valentine’s Day: the origins and this year’s outlook

In the 1920s and after the Second World War, a significant portion of Western Europe embraced Anglo-American culture. Brits and Americans seemed to step into the cultural leadership the Germans had fulfilled before. Just remember how, in 1939, even Marlene Dietrich became an American citizen.

Before the war broke out, 12-stem tulip bunches were popular with buyers, but under Anglo-Saxon influence, Dutch horticulturists began incorporating ten stems in the bunch.

More recently, quintessential Dutch traditions have increasingly merged with American holidays. For example, Sint Maarten is celebrated every 11 November with children going door to door with self-made lanterns in their hands and singing songs in exchange for candy. Still, it increasingly contains elements of Halloween, which is celebrated on 31 October.

Meanwhile, the feast of Sinterklaas has been celebrated for centuries in the Netherlands. It continues to be a cornerstone of Dutch culture and a very important family gathering, with gifts exchanged on 5 December. But here, there’s also an Anglicised shift toward present giving at Christmas.

In case you don’t remember, Valentine’s Day is on 14 February each, and this year, it occurs on a Wednesday. It is by far the best example of how a popular American holiday has spread to Europe as a fun and commercial event.

The origins of Valentine’s Day on 14 February are misty and miscellaneous. However, it was the English poet Geoffrey Chaucer (1343-1400) who depicted free, romantic love and Saint Valentine by describing a tale where birds search for partners with the help of Lady Nature on Valentine’s Day. In his poem called Parliament of Fowls, he wrote, “For this was on Seynt Valentynes day. Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make.”

Over the past decades, Valentine’s Day has become Europe’s most important floral holiday, just like in other parts of the world. According to the International Fresh Produce Association (IFPA), Valentine’s Day makes up 25 per cent of the holiday market share and sells approximately $1.9 billion worth of cut flowers every year – these figures are for the USA alone.

For many green professionals, Valentine’s Day marks the start of a bumper selling season, which is swiftly followed by International Women’s Day on 8 March, Mothering Sunday in the UK – which this year falls on 10 March, Easter (31 March-1 April), Mother’s Day in Spain on 5 May, Mother’s Day in many countries such as Germany, Netherlands and the USA on 12 May, Mother’s Day in France on 26 May, and Sweden’s National Day on 6 June.

After which, the industry enters a much slower-selling summer season. The first five months of the year generate 50 per cent of the turnover and perhaps 100 per cent of the profit. For many a wholesaler, the primordial task is to break even over the seven months that make up the rest of the year.

The upcoming Valentine’s Day outlook is good, or more precisely, rosy.

The rose, specifically the red rose, is the most popular flower for the February holiday. With reports from extensive El Nino floods in Kenya, rose growers in Africa anticipate strong sales even if weather conditions are so-so. And political unrest in Ethiopia is not impacting the flower-growing industry too much.

There’s also room for positivism in South America (Colombia and Ecuador), but the undertone is critical. Mass market orders in the USA are strong.

Aren’t there any problems? El Nino affects weather patterns, and it has been warm in South America. These climate challenges push the production to arrive a bit too early.

In addition, everybody sees the recent criminal activities in Ecuador, but importers and cargo agents do not fear problems affecting flower transports. Container transports through the Suez Canal might face some problems, but most roses from East Africa are transported through the air.

So, as long roads in the major consumption markets for cut flowers remain free from ice and snow, we can look forward to Cupid’s flutter and a happy Valentine’s Day.

Jaap Kras is a horticultural consultant, a PBR expert, an industry veteran and a former owner and publisher of FloraCulture International. This article was first published in the FCI February 2024 issue.

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