Valentine’s Day

Ancient Origins

Poster of the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia.

According to some historians, Valentine’s Day is a successor of the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia dating back to 300BC. A fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus, Lupercalia was held every year at the ides of February (between February 13 and February 15)
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Christian Origins

5th century A.D., Pope Gelasius I.

In the 5th century A.D., Pope Gelasius I decided to expel the pagan holiday and replace it with a day for the celebration of a martyr called Valentine, who was executed by Emperor Claudius II.

There are different legends about who St. Valentine was. One tells the story of a Christian priest who was imprisoned and fell in love with his jailer’s daughter. Before his death, he signed a love letter to her with the words “from your Valentine.”

Another legend tells about a priest who ignored Roman Emperor Claudius II’s ban on marriage for young men in his army. (The Emperor believed that unmarried men made better soldiers.) The priest continued to marry couples who were in love for which he was eventually executed.

You can learn more about (the) St. Valentine(s) by visiting:

Modern Day

Calendar showing February 14th and roses.

During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer was the first to record St. Valentine’s Day as a day of romantic celebration in his 1375 poem “*Parliament of Foules,” writing, ““For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”.”

*Modernized: Parliament of Fowls, also called the Parlement of Briddes/Parliament of Birds.

Fun Facts

Oldest Love Poem

The oldest surviving lobe poem, written on a clay tablet.

The oldest surviving love poem is an ancient Sumerian cuneiform clay tablet. Created around 2037-2029 BC the tablet contains a balbale (a kind of Sumerian poem) and was unearthed in Nippur, in lower Mesopotamia (modern day Iraq) by archaeologists during excavations that took place between 1889 and 1900.

Although archaeologists gave it the very un-romantic name: ‘Istanbul #2461’, the translated titles are “Bridegroom, Spend the Night in Our House Till Dawn” or “A Love Song of Shu-Suen”

You can read the translation for the poem by visiting:

The First Valentine

First love letter, written in 1415 by Charles, Duek of Orleans to his second wife Bonnie of Armagnac.

The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a rondeau (a form of medieval and Renaissance French poetry) written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his (2nd) wife Bonne of Armagnac while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.

The invention of Heart-Shaped Boxes of Chocolates

Box of heart shaped chocolates.

Richard Cadbury (UK), the eldest son of John Cadbury, founder of the world-famous Cadbury company, created the first known heart-shaped box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day 1868. The Cadbury company had recently improved its chocolate making technique so as to extract pure cocoa butter from whole beans, producing a more palatable “drinking chocolate.” This process resulted in an excess amount of cocoa butter, which Cadbury used to produce many more varieties of what was then called “eating chocolate.” Pioneer that he was, Richard Cadbury packaged these “eating chocolates” in beautifully decorated heart-shaped boxes that he himself designed and that, as they say, was that.

According to the National Confectioners Association, every year, more than 36 million heart shaped boxes of chocolates are sold across the United States. Caramels are the most popular flavor in chocolate boxes, followed by chocolate-covered nuts, chocolate-filled, cream-filled, and coconut.

The birth of Valentine’s Day cards in the U.S.

18th century valentines day cards.

In the middle of the 18th century, giving out handwritten notes as signs of affection was a common Valentine’s Day practice in England. As printing technology improved, handwritten messages soon gave way to ready-made cards. They were easy to fill out while still feeling sincere, and low postage rates made them cheap to send.

As Time Magazine reports: American Valentines were originally less romantic and more comical… That is until Esther Howland, a student at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, was inspired to start creating her own. She started the New England Valentine Co. with a group of female friends in a third-floor room of her house in Worcester, Massachusetts, and made $100,000 in annual revenues, earning herself the title “Mother of the American Valentine.” According to Hallmark, approximately 114 million cards (not including children’s classroom cards) are exchanged industry-wide every year for Valentine’s Day in the U.S.

Candy hearts.

Candy hearts were originally medical lozenges.

In 1847 apothecary lozenges (essentially medicine mixed with sugar paste) were in high demand as a popular remedy for sore throats and other ailments. But making them was both a time-and-labor-intensive process. Boston pharmacist Oliver Chase simplified the process by creating a lozenge cutter, which according to The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America, is considered America’s first candy-making machine. The pharmacist then shifted his focus from medicinal lozenges to candy production, and founded Chase and Company, (later known as the New England Confectionery Company, or Necco.) and the candy lozenges became what we know today as Necco wafers. The conversational candies officially became heart-shaped in 1902

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