Who invented Valentine’s Day?

Valentine’s day is a big season for us, creating chocolates to help our customers express their love. Cynics say that Valentine’s day was created by the card industry to increase sales but I needed the truth. Following my research, let me enlighten you…!

There are conflicting reports on the real origin but there is consensus that from 13th to 15th February, ancient Romans celebrated the fertility festival of Lupercalia, when Roman men sacrificed goats and used the skins to whip women… to make them fertile! At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I declared this as Valentine’s day in an attempt to ‘Christianise’ this pagan festival.

There were two Saint Valentines who the Pope could have dedicated this day to and it’s not clear which truly claims it. Valentine of Terni was martyred in Rome in AD197 and Valentine of Rome in around AD289 – the latter was jailed for helping prisoners and promptly fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, sending her a note “From your Valentine”. Apparently he died on 14th February, although this may be untrue.

So the naming ‘rights’ of St. Valentine’s day remain patchy but gathered momentum and by 15th Century France, the day had become an annual festival celebrating love. By 1601, it was sufficiently popular that William Shakespeare’s Ophelia refers to Valentine’s day in Hamlet.

A familiar Valentine’s poem was included in a collection of 1784 nursery rhymes which children still chant today: “The rose is red, the violet’s blue, The honey’s sweet and so are you.” Sending cards became popular around this time, with romantic flowers and love symbols often slipped secretly under a door of a loved one. Britain’s industrialisation brought printing presses and mass-produced Valentine’s cards and by 1840, the volume of cards being sent had increased exponentially. Only slightly later Richard Cadbury produced a chocolate to celebrate the day and many believe that he created the first heart-shaped box, too. The greatest of card businesses, Hallmark was relatively late to the party, only producing their first card in 1913.

For me, Valentine’s day is about remembering to tell those around us that we love them. Simon and I always say that we don’t ‘do’ Valentine’s day which means: we don’t have time to go out and buy a card or can’t bear the idea of sitting with other couples in an under-staffed restaurant! But now I know that this is an event steeped in history, I will endeavour to celebrate in the way I know best… Chocolate hearts, anyone?!


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