St Valentine’s Day – romantic occasion or commercialised cliché? BFP reporter Laura Smith tells us why she doesn’t mind being single on Valentine’s.

CLICH�: Reporter Laura Smith doesn't understand the hype and is pictured here bursting a 'Happy Valentine's Day' balloon in Clinton Cards, Bury
CLICH�: Reporter Laura Smith doesn't understand the hype and is pictured here bursting a 'Happy Valentine's Day' balloon in Clinton Cards, Bury
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Cards with soppy poems, fattening heart-shaped chocolates and red roses by the dozen, Valentine’s Day is so cliché.

Of course, as a singleton it’s easy to be cynical of the occasion and I do recognise the huge benefit it brings to our economy, but I just don’t understand all the hype.

Inflated costs, restaurants so busy you can’t make a reservation and the frantic last- minute running around by, let’s face it, usually men.

“Women buy cards up to three weeks prior to Valentine’s Day, whereas men buy from three days before,” said Debbie Willott, director of Quest Gifts, in Abbeygate Street, Bury St Edmunds.

“The day before Valentine’s, we normally can’t get to this section (the back of the store) for men,” she added.

According to some historians, the day originates from St Valentine, a Roman soldier who was martyred for refusing to give up Christianity – romantic or what?

Others claim many of the current legends characterising St Valentine were invented in the 14th century, notably by Geoffrey Chaucer and his circle, when the feast day of February 14 first became associated with courtly romantic love.

Wherever it came from, the day has become so commercialised that I fail to see how anyone can consider it romantic.

According to a report last year by the Greeting Card Association (the trade association for the greeting card industry), sales of Valentine’s cards in the UK are rising in value by a £1 million year-on-year.

In 2012 – despite fears the country was entering a double-dip recession – £42.5 million was spent on Valentine’s Day cards, compared to £41.5 million the previous year.

Card purchases generally make up a third of sales at Quest but in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day they account for as much as 75 per cent.

To take advantage of Valentine’s, in the lead up to the big day, Clinton Cards in Butter Market, Bury, opens earlier and stays open later.

According to assistant manger Luci Levene, only Mother’s Day and Christmas are more profitable than Valentine’s.

Last year, the store – which sells artificial roses, confectionary and gifts as well as cards – averaged around £7,000 in sales on February 13 alone.

Florist Jane Morris, owner of Susettes Flowers, in St John’s Street, Bury, said she sold three times as many flowers in the week of Valentine’s, while her neighbour, The Bury Chocolate Shop, holds Valentine’s as one of its most popular occasions, with only Christmas and Easter bringing in more revenue.

Owner of three years, Catriona Brinkley, said that, unlike at other times of the year, Valentine’s chocolates are bought as complementary rather than stand-alone gifts.

And for those wanting to take advantage of her individual treats, she has heart-shaped chocolates, chocolates decorated with hearts and bars of chocolate adorned with the word ‘love’.

The Angel Hotel on Angel Hill, Bury, says Valentine’s is ‘a very popular time’ and one at which it’s ‘decadent getaway’ package – which offers a bottle of chilled pink fizz, luxury hand-made Belgian chocolates, a ‘sumptuous’ afternoon tea, dinner with wine, an overnight stay, his ‘n’ hers treat selection and breakfast - ‘does very well’.

Maison Bleue, in Churchgate Street, Bury, has been fully booked for tonight since December last year and is no stranger to being chosen for Valentine’s wedding proposals.

“Valentine’s is the night for the food of love and the love of food,” said manager Karine Canevet, who is all too familiar with men trying to rescue their special day with a last-minute dinner reservation.

To be honest, Valentine’s proposals make me a little uneasy – I’d forever be wondering if my hypothetical partner had waited for that day in particular or just panicked for a gift at the 11th hour.

Surely a couple’s anniversary, a day of special significance for them, is more worthy of a romantic celebration than a day jointly shared by millions around the world.

Nevertheless, jewellers like Thurlow Champness & Son in Abbeygate Street, Bury, do report increases in engagement ring sales at this time of year.

I am not alone in my distaste for this saintly celebration, I know of many couples who would rather ‘opt out’. But it’s just not that easy.

What did he/she you get you, did you two do anything nice or, for single people like myself, how many cards did you get? We all face the same barrage of questions from friends and colleagues.

It seems there’s a stigma to take part even when we would rather not, and those few couples who do choose to rebel risk having the strength of their relationship judged by the same people who continue to buy into the false romanticism of the event.

And so it goes on, year after year, with our need to prove our love to one another driving our February gift-buying frenzy.

Well, good luck to everyone taking part. I don’t begrudge you happiness, quite the opposite. I just wish it didn’t take February 14 for people to acknowledge or reaffirm their feelings for others.

Cynic? I like to think of myself as a hopeless romantic...

Click here to find out what couples at King Edwards VI School in Bury St Edmunds think of Valentine’s Day.