Newlywed Yoseph Haileselassie has been getting used to celebrating Valentine’s Day over the last four years.
“Even though I’ve known my wife for years we just got married. This year I bought her chocolates, flowers and postcards totaling about 115 birr,” Yoseph told Capital.
He said, had it not been for the wedding costs he incurred last month he would have spent a lot more including clothing. He says most of his friends still don’t celebrate the event.
Another sore point for many people’s abstention from celebrating the holiday, apart from its foreign origin, is the ever increasing price of gift items, which Yoseph finds shocking even to him, a veteran celebrator of the day.
Although he admits that at the surface depending on the number of restaurants that offer Valentine’s day special dinners, the boutiques with red clothing flowers, balloons, hearts and bears, the event seems to have grown traction with a segment of the population.
For Bekalu Tewodros an owner of a small but packed clothing store, Kal Fashion, located around the usually busy 22-Tele Medhanialem road, Valentine’s day was noticed but not widely celebrated.
Bekalu looking grim faced said although he stocked up on red colored clothing for Valentine’s Day, sales were very low, as only occasional couples, and youth bought holiday related items. The store except for some bright red shirts and trousers on display outside its doors seemed to lack the ubiquitous red dresses and red shoes underlying his hesitation to buy in bulk.
He still feels the celebration of Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday among the populace is growing even though he said it’s rare to find customers who come regularly to the store for this particular occasion.
The bland sales effect also seems to have been felt in the flower and decoration business. Such was the case at Flower City which sells decorations and cards. The frantic pace of the business, especially cutting flowers was difficult for workers who noticed that there seemed to be less business than last year though more appear to be celebrating the holiday.
Fregenet Abayeneh a Flower City employee put the blame of the business downturn on the day it was celebrated, Tuesday, which was in the middle of the work week.
“Because Valentine’s Day celebrations were held this year on Tuesday, students and professionals who could have bought from us are either at work or school,” Fregenet told Capital. There are also companies like hotels, restaurants and night clubs that buy flowers for their Valentine’s Day celebrating couples who come out for the night. She further said that Valentine’s Day customers usually tend to be young people ranging from high school students, those who are married and working professionals. There are however some expatriates customers as well as older locals whom Fregenet says tend to be Diaspora.
Another point she conceded is that some Ethiopians perhaps ironically including her don’t celebrate the event because it’s not part of the Ethiopian traditional festivals.
However this was not the only problem that Flower City faced with regards to its business. Late delivery of flowers from various flower farms was also cited as a challenge.
Another worry for her is that just like last year’s event a substantial amount of the flowers may have to be destroyed after the passing of the event due to lack of customers.
The flowers on sale range from one single stem costing four birr to 400 birr for a whole bouquet Postcards are also on sale ranging from five birr to 100 birr. The flowers on sale for Valentine’s Day celebrations were Red Roses and Carnations.
The dampened holiday spirit for Valentine’s Day seems to not have dimmed the enthusiasm of the event for a perky guy Ewnet Shimeles who bought a small bouquet of sparkling red roses and other postcards from the spacious store for his long time fiancée.
“It’s my second time celebrating Valentine’s Day and I find it to be a gentle way of expressing my affection and care towards my fiancée and to please her,” he said.
He further said celebration of Valentine’s Day is becoming more common although a majority of his friends won’t celebrate it unlike last year partly because it falls this year on a working day, and some of them live a long distance from each other, but also because it’s a foreign festival too.
However Shimeles’ celebration did not stop at purchasing gifts for his fiancée. He planned a romantic dinner with her to conclude his celebration of the event.
Tsegaye Abebe Chairman of Ethiopian Horticulture Producers, Exporters Association (EHPEA) and owner of various horticulture farms said the mood was far from cheery.
“Although this year’s Valentine’s Day sales and exports are better than last year’s it’s still down on the association’s sales and export projection,” Tsegaye said.
He said issues of sudden temperature decreases in Ethiopia has led to some export decreases while the cold frost engulfing much of Europe had hampered small flower stores from operating their businesses. Most of the flowers exported during and around the time of Valentine’s Day celebrations are Red Roses and Carnations.
However Tsegaye acknowledged that local flower sales and businesses have picked up during this year when compared to a year before.
The EHPEA says in the first seven months of the current Ethiopian Fiscal Year 2011/12 flower exports amounted to about USD 150 million up by USD 15 million from the same time last year. The figure is still short of about USD 176.5 million that the association had planned to export during this period.
There are currently roughly 100 horticulture farms in Ethiopia spread around the regions.
Valentine’s Day is observed every year on February 14 in honor of Saint Valentines, the reputed saint of love and sacrifice as a day for exchange of flowers and other tokens of affection.