1. February 14th used to be a Roman fertility festival
Ah, the most important of Valentine’s Day facts: why it’s celebrated on the 14th of February. February 14 is the feast of St. Valentine, a Catholic saint who was executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II on that date sometime during the third century A.D. Many legends surround the reason for his death sentence. The most popular one says he was a priest who married young couples after Claudius outlawed marriage for young men (apparently they were better soldiers when they weren’t romantically attached). Another says he helped save Catholics who were imprisoned for their religious beliefs.
2. Your “Valentine” is St. Valentine
Don’t worry, there’s a good reason we call our sweethearts the name of a beheaded priest. Legend has it that when St. Valentine was in prison, he prayed with the daughter of one of his judges and cured her blindness. Before his execution, he wrote her a letter, signing it “From your Valentine.” Whether or not this was a romantic gesture is up for debate. Nevertheless, the signature caught on and is still used to show affection.
4. Red roses mean romance in the Victorian language of flowers
Back in the Victorian era, people expressed their emotions through floriography or the language of flowers. Giving a certain kind of flower conveyed a specific message, and red roses meant romance. Today, they carry that same symbol of romance—and they’re really cheap. The United States buys huge quantities from large farms in Colombia and Ecuador, where the cost of labor is low. Then they’re transported on refrigerated planes and arrive stateside in just three or four days. The reason these summer flowers bloom in February? Growers control what temperature they’re stored at to make them open in time for Valentine’s Day.
5. Wearing red makes you more attractive (it’s science!)
It has long been a Valentine’s Day fact that red is the color of passion and sexuality, and science can now confirm it. A study by University of Rochester psychologists found that men viewed women wearing red or standing in front of a red background as significantly more attractive and sexually desirable than women wearing or standing in front of different colors. Women felt the same way about men wearing red. The color also symbolizes confidence, spontaneity, and determination—all important factors in a romantic pursuit.
6. Valentine’s chocolate is just good marketing
If you get a box of chocolates this Valentine’s Day, thank Richard Cadbury. After he and his brother took over his family’s chocolate manufacturing business, he discovered a way to extract pure cocoa butter from whole beans and added it to the company’s chocolate drink. The process produced more cocoa butter than expected, so he put it in “eating chocolate” as well. Then, in a business ploy that would change the industry, Cadbury started designing beautiful boxes for his new chocolates, including special Valentine’s Day ones with cupids and roses. It’s believed that he made the first heart-shaped candy box, even though he didn’t patent it.
7. Valentine’s Day cards in America come from a female entrepreneur
In the middle of the 18th century, giving out handwritten notes and other signs of affection was a common Valentine’s Day custom in England. As printing technology improved, handwritten messages soon gave way to ready-made cards. They were easy to fill out while still feeling sincere, and low postage rates made them cheap to send. The practice reached America in the 1840s when Esther Howland, a student at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, decided she could make cards as pretty as the British ones. She started the New England Valentine Co. and made $100,000 in annual revenues, earning the title “Mother of the American Valentine.” Now, approximately 114 million cards are sent out each Valentine’s Day.
8. Cupid was the Greek god of love
Before he was called Cupid, the Greeks called this heavenly figure Eros, the god of love. He was considered somewhat of a sex symbol since he could woo humans and gods with his supernaturally good looks. According to Greek mythology, Cupid had two arrows, gold to make people fall in love and lead to make people hate each other. The Romans added him to their mythology as Cupid, the son of Venus, who was the goddess of love. During the Renaissance, artists painted Cupid as a putto, a cherub that resembled a naked child. Unfortunately for Cupid, that depiction stuck and went on to become a popular image for Valentine’s Day.
9. Candy hearts date back to the Civil War
Love ’em or hate ’em, you’re guaranteed to see these pastel-colored treats everywhere in the weeks leading up to Valentine’s Day. Candy hearts date back to the days of the American Civil War, when their predecessors, candies called “cockles,” were popular. Similar to fortune cookies, these treats were shaped like scallop shells and contained paper messages. Daniel Chase, whose brother Oliver founded the candy company NECCO, came up with the idea of printing catchy sayings right on the candy. In 1866, NECCO started churning out miniature candy hearts, then called “motto hearts.” Their sayings have evolved quite a bit through the years; today, the hearts even say things like “Email me” and “Tweet me.”
10. Doves mate for life (and they’re good parents!)
Doves are better known for their association with peace, but there’s no shortage of V-Day decor featuring these white birds. These birds’ association with love dates back to Greek mythology, when doves were the sacred bird of the love goddess Aphrodite, who favored them because of their monogamous habits. Like many birds, doves tend to stay with the same mate throughout the whole mating season, and the male doves support and care for the females after the baby doves are born.