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3Qs: Getting to the heart of the matter

For Valentine’s Day, we asked Northeastern faculty to analyze what the holiday means for businesses and your health, and how it all started in the first place.

Besides restaurants and the sellers of chocolates, flowers, jewelry and greeting cards, are there other businesses that take advantage or benefit from Valentine’s Day? And has marketing around the holiday changed at all in recent years?

Tony Gao, assistant professor of marketing in the College of Business Administration

Aside from traditional Valentine’s Day gifts, numerous other businesses have sought to ride on this holiday bandwagon to market a variety of gift items such as electronics, books, clothing, cosmetics, wine and even gifts for pets. More and more service firms are also using this occasion to market intangible experiences or activities as diverse as yoga, fitness memberships, performance shows, theaters, life insurance policies, securities investments, dating services, hotel getaways and even casino retreats as signs of love, affection and care to their significant others and friends.

Two broad trends in recent years in holiday spending in general and Valentine’s Day buying in particular are increasing non-store purchases and growing use of gift cards in lieu of physical gifts. Consumers are increasingly making gift purchases online, even using their mobile phones, and more companies are reaching out to the consumers through social media marketing initiatives. The advent of gift cards has enabled consumers to purchase and present as gifts intangible consumption experiences (for example, a spa treatment) rather than tangible goods.

What can people trying to stay healthy do to celebrate Valentine’s Day without compromising a diet or fitness program?

Greg Cloutier, project manager in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences

Valentine’s Day is traditionally a day to recognize someone we love with chocolate hearts, and romantic dinners, which can easily derail our fitness plans. One Dove chocolate heart is about 210 calories, which is almost 45 minutes of hard walking or 30 minutes of running — and who can eat just one? Remember, it is all about balance and quality of life. Go out and enjoy the dinner and have a piece of chocolate, but keep in mind portions, and you will need to pay the calorie overdraw back in the next few weeks. Try putting it in writing to help yourself stick to repaying those calories — and ask your Valentine to help too!

You could also replace the candy with fruit, flowers, or a massage. Or how about going for a walk or run before a romantic, but healthy Valentine’s dinner? This would show your Valentine you care, support their goals, and want them to live a healthy, fit life as well.

What are some of the earliest references to Valentine’s Day in literature and what makes them interesting?

Erika Boeckeler, assistant professor of English

The earliest reference to the holiday can be found in Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Parliament of Fowls,” a somewhat mysterious narrative poem that begins with the comment that the speaker does not really know what love is. Ultimately he has a dream vision in which the birds of the world gather together on the day “whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,” i.e. every bird chooses a mate. What follows is a long debate (“parliament” comes from the French “parler,” meaning “to speak”) about the best suitor for one beautiful female bird in particular. It’s Twitter about relationships before people could Twitter about relationships. In the end, the beautiful eagle never selects a mate; instead, she petitions the goddess Nature for an extension to think things over and get some advice. Chaucer’s version of St. Valentine’s Day, then, asks us to contemplate seriously about this major life decision and fly from matches that are merely convenient or socially pressured.

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