Valentine’s Day is synonymous with romance, of course. But of the millions who celebrate the popular holiday for lovers each year, how many actually know the rich history behind it?
There are several competing theories on the origins of Valentine’s Day. Some say its beginnings can be found in the Middle Ages, when many believed that birds mated for life on Feb. 14. To commemorate the spirit of companionship, people would send love letters on that day.
Others say we owe our celebration to the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia, a pagan fertility festival that was held in mid-February. On this day, women wrote love notes that were placed in an urn and randomly drawn by men, who would then pursue the note-writers and claim them as companions for the next year.
Early Christians preferred to associate the holiday with the saint of romantic causes, Saint Valentine. But there is some controversy regarding Saint Valentine: The Catholic Church recognizes at least three saints named Valentine or Valentinus.
The most popular candidate is a third century priest. Legend says he performed secret marriages against the orders of Emperor Claudius II, who forbade young men from marrying because he believed that single men were more likely to join the army.
As the story goes, Valentine was imprisoned for his misdeeds. He then fell in love with his jailer’s daughter and sent her a note signed “From Your Valentine” before he was executed in A.D. 270. A little more than 200 years later, Pope Gelasius officially recognized Feb. 14 in honor of Valentine, the patron saint of lovers.
Some say the tradition of sending Valentine greetings started in 1415 with a Frenchman named Charles, Duke of Orleans. Imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt, the duke reportedly passed time by writing romantic verses for his wife. By the 16th century, sending written expressions of affection on Valentine’s Day had become very common.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the giving of Valentines was accompanied with gifts of flowers and chocolates. The red rose and heart-shaped box of chocolates became synonymous with Valentine’s Day.
Now, more than $1 billion is spent annually on Valentine’s Day candy.
The National Confectioners Association estimates that more than 36 million candy hearts will be sold this year alone, the majority of them from Russell Stover, the leading producer of heart-shaped boxes of chocolate in the United States. Russell Stover also caters to the health conscious with assortments that are sugar-free and low in carbohydrates.