It comes around once a year and is touted as the most ‘romantic day’ of the year. But Valentine’s Day is way more than just chocolate and flowers — it actually has a pretty rich history that dates all the way back to Ancient Rome!
Here are a 10 facts about this ‘beloved’ holiday.
Historians believe Valentine’s Day actually began in Ancient Rome as a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia, with the celebration dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and Roman founders Romulus and Remus. According to History.com, the day was celebrated with activities that included sacrificing animals and whipping women with animal skins until they bled, signifying their fertility. Yikes!
2. In the 1300s, it officially became a holiday associated with love and romance.
The holiday was Christianized — no more animal sacrifices! — when the Roman Pope Gelasius officially declared the date of February 14 “St. Valentine’s Day.” The day then became associated with love because many believed that birds started their mating season on February 14.
In fact, he might have been two or three. But the most common “founder” of Valentine’s Day was the Saint Valentine who defied Emperor Claudius II. At the time, Claudius had banned marriage because he thought it distracted young soldiers. Valentine felt a bit differently — he illegally married couples until he was caught. After he was sentenced to his death, young couples would visit his cell and give him flowers and cards. And the day he actually died? February 14. Allegedly.
But there have been multiple St. Valentines throughout history, including a bishop and one Pope (he only served for 40 days in 827 A.D.).
The oldest record of a valentine being sent, according to History.com, was a poem written by a French medieval duke named Charles to his wife in 1415. Charles penned this sweet note to his lover while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London at just 21 years old. One of the lines in the poem? “I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine.” Swoon!
People started exchanging cards and handwritten letters to both lovers and friends during the 17th century, but it was in the 1840s that the first Valentine’s Day cards were mass-produced in the U.S., sold by Esther A. Howland. Known as the “Mother of the American Valentine,” Howland is credited with commercializing Valentine’s Day cards in America, and she is remembered for her elaborate, crafty cards made with lace and ribbons.
Which makes it the second biggest holiday for exchanging greeting cards, after Christmas! And how sweet: Teachers receive the most Valentine’s Day cards annually, followed by children, mothers, and wives.
Candy and flowers might be the most common gifts for Valentine’s Day, but according to the National Retail Federation of the Americas, the category that people spent the most on for February 14 is jewelry, at a whopping $4.7 billion! The second most-paid-for gift is an evening out with $3.7 billion, followed by flowers, clothing, and then candy.
It was created by Richard Cadbury, son of Cadbury founder John Cadbury, who started packaging chocolates in fancy boxes to increase sales. He introduced the first heart-shaped box of chocolates for V-Day in 1861, and today, more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are sold each year. That’s 58 million pounds of chocolate!
I mean, what better day is there for a marriage proposal than a day literally dedicated to love and romance? Valentine’s Day is one of the popular days to pop the question, with as many as 6 million couples getting engaged on February 14. And according to the results of this survey, Valentine’s Day was voted the best day of the year to propose than any other day — and of those people who voted, 40% were men!
Many Latin American countries know the holiday as el día de los enamorados (day of lovers) or día del amor y la amistad (day of love and friendship). Though couples exchange flowers and chocolate on this day, the holiday’s focus is also directed at showing gratitude to friends!
In Japan, it’s customary for just the women to give confections to the men in their lives, with the quality of the chocolate indicating their true feelings, according to Fortune. On March 14, exactly a month later, the men repay the favor by celebrating the increasingly popular “White Day.”
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