A delicious breakfast in bed. Chocolate candies and a sweet homemade Valentine's Day card. A quiet, candlelit romantic dinner. A special cocktail and yummy heart-shaped dessert. No matter how you and your sweetie celebrate Valentine's Day, you're part of a tradition enjoyed by millions of people across the globe. From Denmark to Australia, South Africa to England, couples share cuddles and kisses on this, the most romantic day of the year. In the United States, more than 62 percent of Americans celebrate Valentine's Day, making it one of the country's most popular holidays, according to History.com. And that's just one of many fascinating Valentine's Day facts we've discovered!
Did you know, for example, it's thought there was more than one St. Valentine, and both met a rather unfortunate end? Or that the practice of giving flowers on February 14 became popular in the 1800s, the same century that gave birth to the first mass-produced Valentine's Day cards? It's true, and we've discovered plenty more fascinating history and juicy tidbits about the only holiday dedicated to romantic love. After you've read up, if you're looking for other activities to commemorate the day, be sure to check out our best Valentine's Day crafts.
1. Valentine's Day got its start as a Roman fertility festival.
It may be difficult to believe given how innocuous the holiday is nowadays, but the roots of Valentine's Day stem from a bloody pagan fertility festival dating back to 6th century B.C. Every year, between February 13 and 15, Romans celebrated Lupercalia by sacrificing animals and slapping women with their hides, which was believed to make them more fertile. Later, notes Britannica.com, the women would be paired off with men "by lottery." Definitely not the most romantic way to find an S.O.
2. There was more than one St. Valentine.
And strangely enough, it's unknown to which Valentine the holiday is dedicated. History does tells us that Pope Gelasius I outlawed Lupercalia at the end of the 5th century, instituting St. Valentine's Day in its place. But who does the day celebrate specifically?
One legend supposes that the holiday's patron saint was a third-century Roman priest who defied Claudius II Gothicus. Although the emperor had banned his soldiers from marriage, apparently believing it a distraction, the priest secretly wed young couples—until his actions were discovered and he was martyred.
Another account points to a priest from the same period who was jailed for helping Christians escape brutal Roman prisons. He fell in love with a young woman who visited him, signing a letter to her, "From Your Valentine," a sweet endearment we still use today.
3. It wasn't until the Middle Ages that Valentine's Day became a romantic holiday.
Despite the holiday's initial ties to love and marriage, Valentine's Day didn't become associated with them until medieval times, when it was believed that the mating season of birds began on February 14.
The very first valentine is said to have been a poem sent in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife. Imprisoned in the Tower of London after his capture at Battle of Agincourt, he wrote, "I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine." Unfortunately, it would be 20 more long years until the 21-year-old would be released from his cell.
4. Wearing your heart on your sleeve was a real thing.
But not in a grisly sort of way. Back in the Middle Ages, during a festival honoring the goddess Juno, Roman men would draw the names of women they would be partnered with for the following year. (Remember, Emperor Claudius II didn't condone marriage, only temporary couplings.) According to Smithsonian.com, they would then show off the name of their intended by wearing it on their sleeves for the rest of the celebration.
5. Cupid was a Greek god.
Literally. Yep, that cute little chubby baby with the bow and arrow we associate with Valentine's Day started out way back in 700 B.C. as the Greeks' handsome, virile god, Eros. Able to make mortals fall in love (or hate) with his magical arrows, he was remade into Cupid by the Romans around 4th century BCE. But, as Time.com reports, it wasn't until the turn of the 19th century that Cupid became the face of Valentine's Day for his "love creating abilities."
6. It's thanks to a woman we have mass-produced Valentine's Day cards.
As celebrating Valentine's Day became more popular, people began giving out little handwritten notes and other love tokens. By the early 1700s this practice had reached the United States, with pre-made valentines showing up in the mid-1800s, thanks to a woman named Esther A. Howland.
Her cards, lovingly made with real lace and ribbons, were sentimental and sweet, and an immediate hit on the commercial market. In fact, Howland, a one-time student at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary who became known as the "Mother of the American Valentine," made an estimated $100,000 annually, about $ 3 million nowadays.
Today, thanks in part to Howland's keen business sense, a jaw-dropping 145 million Valentine's Day cards are given each year in the U.S. alone, not including the little valentines kids exchange with each other in their classrooms. According to Hallmark, that makes Valentine's Day the second most popular card-giving holiday, right behind Christmas.
7. Valentine's Day chocolate was a stroke of marketing genius.
Much as we have Esther Howland to thank for for the Valentine's Day card, it was mostly one man, Richard Cadbury, who was responsible for forever tying the holiday to chocolate. The son of the manufacturer of Cadbury Chocolate, he began packaging his family's product in beautiful heart-shaped boxes to drive up sales. From that first Valentine's Day box sold in the 1860s grew an industry that now counts some 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate sold annually.
As for what's inside those deep red, oh-so-romantic boxes? Woman's Day reports that caramels are the standout favorite, followed by chocolate-covered nuts. And chocolates account for the lion's share of Valentine's Day candy sales—just about 75 percent.
8. Conversation hearts had humble beginnings.
The iconic little candy hearts emblazoned with Valentine messages were first created by a machine initially invented to make medical lozenges. But it wasn't long before the Boston-based pharmacist who originated the gadget's design decided to switch from making cough drops to crafting candy wafers, rebranding his company as New England Confectionery Company, or Necco.
By 1866, Necco was producing candy printed with messages that included "Married in white you have chosen right" and "How long shall I have to wait? Please be considerate." Thirty-five years later, that candy took on the familiar heart shape we know and love today. Every day, some 100,000 pounds of the chalky, talkative little candies, which have a shelf life of five years, are made. That adds up to a whopping eight billion conversation hearts annually.
9. The Victorians began the trend of giving flowers for Valentine's Day.
Red roses as a symbol of romance dates back to ancient Rome — it was the favorite posy of Venus, the Roman goddess of love (and Cupid's mom). But it wasn't until the the Victorian era that men really began giving the flower to women they were wooing.
Roses are a lot less pricey now than they once were, thanks to flower farms in Ecuador and Columbia. Cheap labor in those countries mean they can be raised and shipped abroad at a fraction of the cost of roses grown elsewhere. Maybe that's why more than half of Valentine's Day flower purchases are roses. All those sales add up, too. Valentine's Day is florists' busiest day of the year, ahead of even Christmas and Mother's Day.
10. Valentine's Day is expensive.
At least if you go by statistics released by the National Retail Federation, which found that Americans spent more than $20 billion on the holiday in 2019, and were predicted to exceed that figure by $7.4 billion in 2020. Men were expected to spend $291 each, a significant chunk more than women, who were expected to spend $106.
Much of that money goes toward jewelry. According to Good Housekeeping, more cash ($5.8 billion!) is spent on baubles than anything else on February 14th. That includes a whole lot of diamond rings—as many as six million couples get engaged on Valentine's Day.
11. "X" really did mark the spot.
Ever wondered how Xs and Os came to mean kisses and hugs? It seems that back in the Middle Ages people, who were mostly illiterate, signed documents with a simple X. It's believed that this symbol represented Christ on the cross, which in turn meant faith and fidelity. As a show of devotion, people would then kiss the X, and thus, over the centuries, X evolved into a smooch. It's not known how O came to signify a hug, but some suppose it was simply because, like X, it was also easy to write.
12. Valentine's Day isn't just for romance.
If you find yourself without a sweetheart on the most romantic day of the year, don't fret. You can always commemorate it with your four-legged love, like the almost 45 million American households that bought Valentine's Day gifts for their doggos and kitties in 2020. That adds up to an estimated $751.3 million worth of Valentine's gifts for pets alone.
Or you can celebrate Galentine's Day, the holiday made famous (and made up) in a 2010 episode of television's hit sitcom, Parks and Recreation. In the decade since the episode aired, spending on Valentine's Day presents for buddies has skyrocketed, to $2.1 billion.
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