Every Feb. 14, men and women (but mostly men) are expected to express their affection for their significant other by “surprising” them with gifts of flowers, candy, jewelry, dining and greeting cards in the annual love-fest known as Valentine’s Day.
Although the exact roots of Valentine’s Day are unknown, historians speculate that once upon a time -- we’re talking third century AD here -- the Roman emperor forbade young soldiers to wed, believing that single men made better fighters. However, a rebel bishop named Valentine continued to wed young couples in secrecy. Eventually he was discovered and put to death, but not before writing a note to the jailer’s daughter, which was signed, “From your Valentine.”
Whether or not Bishop Valentine was actually murdered on Feb. 14 remains a mystery, but that particular day was declared Valentine’s Day some 220 years after the clergyman’s death sentence.
Here are a few fun facts about how Valentine’s Day evolved over the last few centuries:
1. We eat chocolate on Valentine’s Day because in the old days, it was supposed to inspire love. We’ve all heard that chocolate is an aphrodisiac, and while that may be true, the candy ritual is far older than that. In medieval times, women would eat sweet and sometimes bizarre food -- including chocolate -- the night before Valentine’s Day. This was supposed to inspire dreams in which they would envision their future spouse.
2. Cupid is misrepresented by Valentine’s Day. The original Cupid was a demigod in Roman mythology; he was the son of Venus, goddess of beauty and love. Over centuries, Christianity mingled with the old belief system, and Cupid was reduced to a cherub, one of the choirs of angels -- which is why these days he is only found stamped on Valentine’s Day apparel as a chubby baby sporting a bow and arrow and impossibly tiny wings.
3. The first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards were produced in the 1840s. The invention of this time-honored tradition is credited to a woman by the name of Esther Howland of Massachusetts, who developed a successful business by making Valentines out of lace, paper and floral décor. She is often referred to as “the Mother of the American Valentine.”
4. Richard Cadbury created the first box of Valentine’s Day chocolate. Another Valentine pioneer of the 1800s, Richard Cadbury cashed in on the holiday by using his father’s chocolate company to create the first marketed box of love-symbolizing candy. Although, Cadbury’s motives might have been two-fold -- doctors of the same era often prescribed chocolate to patients who were suffering from heartbreak.
5. The rose is not just popular for its color. Sure, red is technically the color of Valentine’s Day -- and love in general, I suppose -- but there’s another reason why we give roses on V-Day. It turns out that the rose was the favored flower of Venus, Roman goddess of love and mother of the modernly-forsaken Cupid.
Have a happy Valentine’s Day!