The month of February has arrived, and with it comes the annual tradition of buying and making Valentine’s Day cards, gifts, and food. But, amidst all the joy surrounding this day dedicated to romantic love, you may be left wondering: Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day? Isn’t it possible that the next thing that will come to mind will be, “Didn’t we just finish the holiday season?”
Put aside your to-do list for February 14 and read up on the history of Valentine’s Day and some fun facts and traditions associated with the holiday.
The original celebration had its roots in a Roman festival honoring fertility.
While it’s hard to imagine, given how tame Valentine’s Day is today, the holiday originates in a violent pagan fertility ritual in the sixth century B.C. Between February 13 and 15, Romans celebrated Lupercalia by sacrificing animals and slapping women with their hides, a practice thought to increase fertility. In the end, the women would be matched with men “by lottery,” which isn’t exactly the most romantic way to find a soul mate, as noted by Britannica.com.
One legend about St. Valentine claims that he secretly married young couples even though the emperor had banned marriage because he saw it as a diversion for his soldiers. A second legend has it that while Valentine was in prison for helping Christians escape Roman prisons, he wrote a letter to a woman (either his love or the jailor’s daughter, whose blindness he had healed) and signed it, “From Your Valentine,” a sweet endearment we still use today.
In Greek mythology, Cupid was worshipped.
Literally, true, the chubby baby with the bow and arrow we associate with Valentine’s Day was originally the Greeks’ handsome, virile god Eros, who first appeared around 700 B.C. However, by the fourth century BCE, the Romans had transformed him into Cupid, a god who could make people fall in love (or hate) with the help of his mystical arrows. Time.com notes, however, that it wasn’t until the turn of the 19th century that Cupid’s “love-creating abilities” made him the symbol of Valentine’s Day.
A young entrepreneur’s valentine-themed startup revolutionized American greeting cards.
As the popularity of Valentine’s Day rose, so did the practice of exchanging small tokens of affection, such as handwritten notes. Mass-produced valentines became widely adopted in the United States in the mid-1800s, thanks to “Mother of the American Valentine” Esther A. Howland, the daughter of a Massachusetts stationer and a recent graduate of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. This practice had likely arrived in the Americas by the early 1700s.
Her cards were inspired by English valentines and were a commercial success due to their sentimentality and sweetness. But her home-based assembly line setup, which reduced the cost of an elaborate handmade Valentine from around a dollar to about thirty cents, made her business idea work.
The idea of selling chocolate for Valentine’s Day was a brilliant marketing ploy
You can thank Richard Cadbury for the next time you enjoy a gorgeous heart-shaped box of chocolates on February 14. The son of the Cadbury Chocolate Company’s founder, he designed the first heart-shaped box of chocolates to boost sales. Later, the industry that began selling one box of chocolates in 1861 expanded to where some 36 million heart-shaped boxes were sold each year.
What, pray to tell, is housed within those ravishingly romantic-looking red boxes? It has been reported by Woman’s Day that caramels are the number one favorite candy, followed closely by chocolate-covered nuts. And about 75% of all Valentine’s Day candy purchases are chocolates.
Victorians were the first to popularize exchanging floral gifts on Valentine’s Day.
Because Venus, the Roman goddess of love (and Cupid’s mom), favored red roses, they have been associated with romantic love since antiquity. However, it wasn’t until the Victorian era that men commonly presented the flower as a token of their affection for the women they admired.