Love it or loathe it, Valentine’s Day is impossible to ignore. Celebrated worldwide each year with much gusto, the day has become synonymous with cards, candy, chocolates, flowers, heart-shaped notes, lavish gifts, and romantic dinners. With all the brouhaha surrounding Valentine’s Day, how much do you really know about it? Read on to discover the history of Valentine’s Day and some interesting Valentine’s Day facts.
Facts about Valentine’s Day
1. Valentine’s Day was named after its patron saint, St. Valentine — but St. Valentine actually refers to several people.
Although we know that Valentine’s Day was named after its patron saint, there was more than one St. Valentine. Records from the Catholic Church indicate the existence of at least three different martyrs named Valentine or Valentinus that are connected to February 14.
Except for their piety and devotion to the church, information about their life is murky at best. Thus, it’s not known which St. Valentine the holiday honors.
2. It’s alleged that Valentine’s Day was founded as an act of rebellion.
One of the most important facts to keep in mind about the history of Valentine’s Day is that no one has been able to accurately pinpoint the exact origin of this holiday. Even historians are at loggerheads about how Valentine’s Day started.
One of the two most popular theories about the provenance of Valentine’s Day is that Emperor Claudius II didn’t allow Roman men to wed during wartime as he thought marriage distracted young soldiers. St. Valentine defied Emperor Claudius II’s ban on marriage, illegally marrying couples in the spirit of love until he was caught and later killed on February 14, 270 AD for defying the emperor.
It is said that St. Valentine is said to have fallen in love with the daughter of his jailer, sending her a letter signed “From your Valentine” before his execution. The legend is even embellished further by claims
3. The origin of Valentine’s Day is possibly tied to “Lupercalia”, an ancient Roman fertility festival.
The other popular theory about the origin of Valentine’s Day also concerns the Romans. It posits that it has its roots in “Lupercalia”, a gory and kooky pagan fertility festival dating back to the 6th century BC.
Every year on February 15, the Romans celebrated Lupercalia by sacrificing dogs and goats. They then used the blood-soaked goat hides to whip women on the streets, as a fertility blessing (how romantic eh)!
4. Valentine’s Day was first declared a holiday by a pope.
In 496 AD, Pope Gelasius I outlawed Lupercalia and declared the holiday un-Christian. He officially decreed February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day, a ‘day of feasts’ to celebrate the martyred St. Valentine.
5. The Catholic Church removed St. Valentine’s Day from the Roman Calendar of Saints in 1969 due to a lack of evidence about his life.
In 1969, St. Valentine’s Day was dropped from the General Roman Calendar of Saints, leaving this liturgical celebration to local calendars. It was argued that there was insufficient evidence of St. Valentine’s existence to grant him an official Feast Day—although officially, the Church didn’t go so far as to state that he never existed.
6. Geoffrey Chaucer was reported to be the first to link Valentine’s Day with romantic love in his late-14th century poem “The Parlement of Foules.”
It may be hard to conceive but Valentine’s Day wasn’t always a romantic holiday.
Valentine’s Day only became associated with romantic love when Geoffrey Chaucer, best known as the author of The Canterbury Tales, made the association in his late-14th century poem “The Parlement of Foules” (Parliament of Fowls/Birds).
The poem features a parliament (assembly) of birds, which have gathered together on Valentine’s Day in order to choose their mates. At a time when most marriages were arranged and often forced, Chaucer pondered questions about free will and love.
Chaucer’s poem is what many historians consider the origin of the “modern” celebration of Valentine’s Day. From this time forward there are numerous literary references (even Shakespeare romanticized it) to February 14 and St. Valentine’s Day as an occasion for love letters and romantic tokens.
7. The oldest recorded Valentine in existence is a poem written by a prisoner in the Tower of London in 1415.
The oldest record of a valentine being sent is said to have been a poem sent by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415. The French duke was imprisoned in the Tower of London having been captured at the Battle of Agincourt.
One of the lines in the letter, which was written in French, by the duke to his wife reads “I am already sick of love, my very gentle Valentine…”. You can still view this letter at the British Library in London.
In 18th century England, giving out handwritten notes and other signs of affection was a common Valentine’s Day custom in England.
8. The phrase “wear your heart on your sleeve” stems from an old Valentine’s Day tradition.
In the Middle Ages, men would draw the names of women out of a hat, to find out who would be their Valentine. They’d wear the name pinned on their sleeve for the rest of the week.
9. A woman named Esther Howland is credited with popularizing Valentine’s Day greeting cards in America.
It’s believed that Americans started exchanging Valentine’s Day greetings in the form of hand-written notes or poems in the early 1700s. Until the mid-19th century, Valentine’s Day cards were usually high-dollar imports from Europe that were only affordable for wealthier Americans.
This all changed when Esther Howland, a young woman from Worcester, Massachusetts started a business producing handmade Valentines in 1847. She made her Valentine’s Day cards by using lots of lace, silk, ribbons, colored paper, and three-dimensional effects to assemble impressive cards that sold widely.
Through a savvy production process, Howland was able to bring them to the masses at a reasonable price. Howland is thus credited with commercializing Valentine’s Day cards in the United States.
10. Cupid, a popular symbol of love, wasn’t always a sweet, innocent cherub.
Cupid, a popular emblem of love, is the charming cherub that now appears on Valentine’s Day cards, often depicted with a bow and arrow. But it wasn’t always so.
Cupid started out in Greek mythology as the Greek god of love named Eros. Rather than the podgy baby he is today, the handsome and swashbuckling Eros could make mortals love or hate each other with his magical arrows.
In the 4th century, the Romans transformed the image of Eros into that of a cute little boy with a bow and arrow, naming him “Cupid.” Cupid became acquainted with Valentine’s Day in the 1800s due to his powers to make individuals fall deeply in love.
11. The first heart-shaped box of chocolates was introduced in 1868.
The first heart-shaped box of chocolates was created by Richard Cadbury, son of Cadbury founder John Cadbury. In order to increase sales, John Cadbury introduced the first heart-shaped box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day in 1868—and, well, the rest is history.
12. “Vinegar Valentines” were used to deter suitors in the Victorian era.
We equate February 14 with chocolates, sending anonymous love notes, and a general sense of love and happiness, but during the mid-19th century, Valentine’s Day was also a day to send anonymous cruel and insulting cards to unwanted suitors.
Printed on crude paper, Vinegar Valentines featured a caricature with an insulting poem alongside, stuff their senders wouldn’t dare say to someone’s face.
The insults included snide comments about looks, jibes about status, and criticism of the recipient’s shortcomings, from drunkenness and vanity through to laziness and stupidity.
Similar to Internet trolls today, the sender of Vinegar Valentines was protected by anonymity. To add insult to injury, the recipient had to pay for the delivery of the card Ouch!
Vinegar Valentines were nearly as popular as romantic ones during the Victorian era. They began to lose popularity following World War I.
13. Valentine’s Day was once banned in England.
Probably one of the lesser-known Valentine’s Day facts is that Oliver Cromwell banned Valentine’s Day celebrations (as well as Christmas) when he became Lord Protector in 1653.
The holiday wasn’t restored until 1660 when the monarchy was reinstated and Charles II took the throne.
14. In Japan, only women buy gifts on Valentine’s Day.
Contrary to Western traditions, it is customary for women to give gifts to men in Japan on Valentine’s Day. The tradition is said to originate from a translation error by a chocolate company.
Chocolate is the main gift given on Valentine’s Day and custom dictates that Japanese women give two kinds of chocolate. One is called “giri-choco” (“obligation chocolate”), cheap chocolate which is doled out to friends, co-workers, and family, or people that you love in a non-romantic way.
The other is called “honmei-choco” (“true feeling chocolate”), high-quality chocolate that is reserved for a boyfriend, husband, or lover.
On March 14, Japan celebrates “White Day,” when all the men who received presents on Valentine’s Day are obliged to return the favor.
15. No country in the world has marked Valentine’s Day as a public holiday.
Despite its wide-reaching popularity across the globe, Valentine’s Day is not a public holiday in any country.
16. In Finland and Estonia, Valentine’s Day is mainly celebrated as friendship day.
Known as “Ystävänpäivä” in Finland and “Sõbrapäev” in Estonia, Friend’s Day is mainly a celebration of love and friendship between family and friends. Every February 14th, cards, flowers, and gifts are given to beloved friends.
17. Alexander Graham Bell applied for a patent for the telephone on Valentine’s Day.
On Valentine’s Day in 1876, a then 29-year-old Alexander Graham Bell applied for his telephone patent in the U.S. Patent Office. Today, the telephone is the most popular medium for sending and receiving Valentine’s Day greetings.
18. Candy hearts were actually invented by a Boston pharmacist who was trying to find more efficient ways to make throat lozenges.
Candy hearts (also known as conversation hearts), the most recognizable Valentine’s Day candy, started out as medical lozenges for the throat! In 1847, Boston-based pharmacist Oliver Chase invented the machine that simplified the lozenge production process.
After his lozenge cutter invention was a success, Chase began to see other uses for his invention. He decided to shift the focus of his invention from medicinal lozenges to candy and founded what would become New England Confectionery Company (NECCO).
In 1866, Chase’s brother, Daniel, began printing them with romantic messages (they only became available in heart shapes in 1902) and the candies soon became associated with Valentine’s Day.
Conversation hearts were discontinued in 2018 when NECCO went out of business but returned in 2020 when Spangler, the company that acquired NECCO, brought them back.
19. The most common recipients of Valentine’s Day cards are actually teachers.
According to a spate of various sources, teachers receive the most Valentine’s Day cards. This is most likely due to classroom Valentine’s celebrations.
They are followed by children, mothers, wives, significant others, and pets.
20. Condom sales are highest on Valentine’s Day.
According to condom giant Durex, prophylactic sales are about 20-30 percent higher than usual on Valentine’s Day.
21. Women spend half as much as men on Valentine’s Day.
If you’ve ever wondered which gender spends more on Valentine’s Day, it’s women. When it comes to money spent, women are apparently only half as committed to the holiday as their masculine counterparts.
A bit surprising maybe given that women tend to make a bigger deal about Valentine’s Day than men.
22. Florists make a killing on Valentine’s Day.
A not-so-surprising fact about Valentine’s Day is that due to the rush for flowers, florists make big profits. The most popular flower on Valentine’s Day is a single red rose surrounded by a baby’s breath.
23. Valentine’s Day is the second most popular time of year to send cards.
Valentine’s Day is second only to Christmas in this regard.