Home NewsNational Rwandans Catch The Valentine’s Day Fever But Is It Fake Or True Love?

Rwandans Catch The Valentine’s Day Fever But Is It Fake Or True Love?

by Edmund Kagire
12:34 pm

Florists prepare flowers on Valentine’s Day morning outside CHIC in downtown.

It is Tuesday 7pm, Tuesday, February 13, in the central business district of Kigali. As many hurry to leave town and head home after a long day at work, Joseline Mujawase has just started work, setting up small tents and tables in front of two different commercial building, getting ready for Wednesday.

February 14 is not your normal Wednesday – it is Valentine’s day. As Mujawase sets up shop, a small pick-up truck is offloading boxes and buckets of fresh flowers, including roses, tulips, orchids and lilies. Her and a few handy men will spend the night here wrapping the flowers in bouquets of all types and shapes.

“It is a business that comes around once a year but yeah, people buy flowers in bulk literally, so we have to prepare early. The demand will be so high tomorrow morning,” Mujawase says.

Men, women, girls and boys throng the small tents to buy the flowers and others call in to have them delivered. As she sets up, she keeps calling several ‘moto’ men, who will be doing the deliveries tomorrow, urging them to get ready. For some, it will be huge bouquets, for others, just a few roses, or one, depending on what you can afford.

Normally, Mujawase has one station at Gisimenti where she normally sells flowers, alongside other things because on other days, not so many people will be buying flowers for their lovers, so she can’t only rely on flowers. However, for Valentine’s Day, she sets up in as many places as possible to cash in on the sudden demand for flowers.

Roses ready for delivery.

Surprisingly, she says, save for wedding decorations, for the rest of the year she gets more orders for wreaths than she gets for lover’s bouquet. She laughs when I joke that it appears people are giving more flowers others when they are gone than when they are alive.

She quips that maybe if you spread over the flowers bought on Valentine’s over the whole year the love bouquets would catch up with the wreaths. Fair enough!

Inside CHIC, one of the shopping complexes in town, shops are stocking up on Valentine’s goods as they deal with early birds who are preparing a day before. Both men and women scour through apparels of all kind to find what they want, either for themselves or their lovers. It is busy here. It is serious business.

Black, red and white are the most demanded colours. Not to be caught pants down, Salim Nshinzirungu, one of the traders in the shop says they prepare early Valentine’s Day stock, even removing other clothes from the stands to replace them with what they know will be demanded.

“Today we got a stream of customers coming in and we expect more tomorrow. Some people do it on the actual day, so we are anticipating more people,” he says, indicating that over the years they’ve found ways of cashing in on the day which is celebrated annually on the the 14th of February.

Sometimes it ends up in losses. In the years that followed Covid-19 Valentine’s Day sales declined,” he says, adding an interesting to the story. Maybe post-pandemic people start viewing love from a more realistic angle.

Excitement in air.

Sometimes the stock remains, you keep it maybe for next year, but if it is clothes, maybe by next year, they are no longer trendy,” he says, adding however that most times they will sell the goods because people catch a shopping fever to impress their loved ones on Valentine’s Day.

Other shops around sell all sorts of merchandise and gifts, from chocolates to wines, scented candles, teddy bears, love cards and even plastic flowers. For those without the resources, cheap artificial flowers, already wrapped from China, come in handy. Each with their own.

It is a show of colour in the downtown bus park, as Valentines good overflow in the shops and corridors. Fake jewelry, cheap knockoff Jordan’s and Airforce shoes await buyers. It is pandemonium. Some of the Valentine’s Day paraphernalia seen include t-shirts written on “King” and “Queen”, “He is Mine, “I am hers”, are some of the few  the few.

What is clear is that as years go by, Rwandans get more invested in the day which was declared a romantic day the 14th and 15th centuries, but it had nothing to with kissing, gifts, dinners and dates, in reality.

Among those selling the goods and those buying them, not so many know much about the day which was fixed on the ancient Roman calendar, known as Lupercalia—which some historians believe is what led to Valentine’s Day being all about love.

Ready to spread love: A man seen with Valentine’s Day packages in town.

According to different publications, Lupercalia celebrated fertility, and may have included a ritual in which men and women were paired off by choosing names from a jar. In Ancient Greece, people observed a mid-winter celebration for the marriage of the god Zeus and the goddess Hera.

“I just know it is a day of lovers,” said Asia Abijuru, found at Downtown, buying Valentine’s goods. When probe further, Abijuru doesn’t seem to know a lot about the day but says she would be willing to part ways with her boyfriends if he doesn’t do anything to show her love on Valentine’s Day.

For Asia, Valentine’s Day is a day to prove your love and affection to someone (or many people in some cases), but her view and understanding of the day (if any) is shared by many Rwandans who tag along in the Valentine’s bandwagon, many racing against the clock to find personalized gift baskets to give to their loved ones.

“It is a day one has to have the money. If you don’t have money to take your lover to dinner and buy them gifts, chances are you will not have a lover the next day,” says Claude Uwizeye, a cosmetic dealer in town.

For Valentine’s Day, they even hike prices for goods but people still come to buy. Uwizeye admits that the day has been more commercialized than it is about love and affection.

“Some people come here with pressure. They want to impress their lovers but maybe they don’t have enough money, they resort to bargaining,” he  says.

Give them flowers while they are still alive. Florist Mutesi Gasana says giving someone flowers shouldn’t depend on a day.

It is not his problem that the day has been commercialized in the name of love, but he also knows that for some people, the gifts and flowers are more about ‘measuring up or fitting in’ and the whole thing is pageantry.

“For some, I think it is true love, but for others it is forced love. Some men come to buy things which they have no clue about and we have to help them to identify what to buy,” Uwizeye says, adding however that females are more specific and intentional when it comes to buying Valentine’s Day gifts.

While it is a good thing to buy your significant others gifts, he says for him it is more of a commercial event which comes to drain pockets of people recovering from the festive season and reopening of schools, which means school fees.

However, Uwizeye, who doesn’t celebrate the day himself, says for him it is a day to cash in on the Valentine’s fever and falls short of calling it a scam.

A Vuba Vuba employees takes flowers for delivery.

While it is unclear how much Rwandans spend on Valentine’s Day, on average, one will need a budget of between Rwf100, 000 for something modest but it can as well stretch up to Rwf5m or more, depending on one’s means, to celebrate a good Valentine’s evening, which involves popping a few bottles of champagne and exquisite dinners.

In the U.S alone, $27.4 billion was spent on Valentine’s Day last year, or $196 per person, up 32 percent from the previous year,  according to The New York Times, which goes to show how seriously commercialized the day has become.

For Jules Ubarijoro, a Seventh Adventist, who religion abhors  Valentine’s Day, Rwandans have jumped on something they don’t understand and he took it a notch higher, saying that some people might end up in hell for doing ungodly things whose origin they don’t know.

“Some people have more than one lover on this day. The amount of alcohol and sex linked to Valentine’s Day confirms how this day should not be celebrated as it is today. We are sinning before God,” says Ubarijoro, a devout Christian, yet ironically, Valentine’s Day is associated to Christianity.

A lady carries a bouquet of flowers for Valentine’s Day.

Well, to be fair, Valentine’s Day has both pagan and Christian origins. The Roman fertility festival Lupercalia was celebrated on Feb. 15 until the fifth century. Legend has it that priests would gently slap young maidens with the hide of a sacrificial goat, and bachelors would pick one of the women’s names out of an urn to be matched with her, according to the History Channel.

Express how you feel

For Mutesi Gasana, a florist and publisher, giving flowers or gifts to someone you love should not be tied to a day. Gasana, who also uses the opportunity to sell flowers, which she does as a hobby, says it is important to say it with flowers, but tying it to Valentine’s Day makes the whole act of expressing love lose meaning.

“For me flowers are a way to express your emotions to someone and how you feel about that person. Flowers naturally express love, through the way they look, the scent and effect on someone. They are also expressional in nature and giving them to someone shouldn’t be tied to a certain day,” she says.

As a publisher and writer, she says expressing it in words, through a handwritten note, poem or card is also important because people easily show how they feel through words. However, to do that, one doesn’t have to be prompted by a day on a calendar.

Dressed for the ocassion. A lady spotted in town dressed in black and red, ready for Valentine’s Day.

She argues that people shouldn’t feel forced or prompted to express how they feel or even how to do it. It has to come from the heart. Gasana says that some people simply do something because they feel compelled to do so, which in a sense makes the whole act of showing love lose meaning.

 Indeed, Gasana confirms that those who do it because they are prompted by a day or because their lovers want them to is what leads people to increasingly think that Valentine’s Day romance is not real in many aspects, but for some, who truly use the day to celebrate or cement their love, then it serves the purpose. However, the jury remains out as to whether the day is about true or fake love.

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