Every February 14, lovers from around the world exchange chocolates, flowers and lavish gifts to celebrate the most romantic day of the year: Valentine's Day. And while this popular holiday is now known as a day full of Hallmark cards and romantic dinners, did you know there's actually a pretty fascinating history of the day of love that dates all the way back to ancient Rome? Here's some facts that may surprise you!
1. St. Valentine wasn't just one person.
You may already know that Valentine's Day was named after its patron saint, St. Valentine — but there's actually some confusion surrounding which St. Valentine the holiday technically honors. According to History.com, there are at least two men named Valentine that could've inspired the holiday. One Valentine who was a priest in third century Rome that defied Emperor Claudius II's ban on marriage, illegally marrying couples in the spirit of love until he was caught and sentenced to death.
Another legend suggests that a different Valentine was killed for attempting to help Christians escape prison in Rome, and that he actually sent the first "valentine" message himself while imprisoned, writing a letter signed "From your Valentine."
2. In the 1300s, it officially became a holiday associated with love.
At the end of the 5th century, Roman Pope Gelasius officially declared the date of February 14 "St. Valentine's Day." It wasn't until until the Middle Ages, though, that the holiday became associated with love and romance, a tradition that first started from the common belief in France and England that birds started their mating season on February 14.
3. Cupid has its roots in Greek mythology.
He's the charming cherub that appears on Valentine's Day cards, often depicted with a bow and arrow — but how did Cupid become a common symbol of Valentine's Day? The figure can actually be traced all the way back to 700 B.C., to the Greek god of love named Eros, who was actually a handsome, immortal man with the power to make people fall in love. It wasn't until the 4th century BCE that the Romans adopted Eros into the image of a cute little boy with a bow and arrow, naming him "Cupid." By the turn of the 19th century, Cupid had become linked to Valentine's Day due to his love-matching powers.
4. The first valentine was sent in the 15th century.
The oldest record of a valentine being sent was a poem written by a French medieval duke named Charles to his wife in 1415. Charles penned this sweet note to his lover while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London at just 21 years old. One of the lines in the poem? "I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine."
5. Not until the 1840s did we get the first mass-produced valentines.
People started exchanging cards and handwritten letters to both lovers and friends during the 17th century, but it was in the 1840s that the first Valentine's Day cards were mass-produced in the U.S., sold by Esther A. Howland. Known as the "Mother of the American Valentine," Howland is credited with commercializing Valentine's Day cards in America, and she is remembered for her elaborate, crafty cards made with lace and ribbons.
6. The tradition of giving Valentine's Day flowers dates back to the 17th century.
Giving red roses may be an obvious romantic gesture today, but it wasn't until the late 17th century that giving flowers became a popular custom. In fact, the practice can be traced back to when King Charles II of Sweden learned the "language of flowers", which pairs different flowers with specific meanings, on a trip to Persia, and subsequently introduced the tradition to Europe. The act of giving flowers then became a popular trend during the Victorian Era, including on Valentine's Day, with red roses symbolizing deep love.
7. Americans send 145 million Valentine's Day cards each year.
According to Hallmark, a whopping 145 million Valentine's Day cards are exchanged every February 14 (and that's not even including all those kids' valentines exchanged in classrooms!). This makes Valentine's Day the second biggest holiday for exchanging greeting cards, after Christmas. And how sweet: Teachers receive the most Valentine's Day cards annually, followed by children, mothers and wives.
8. The first heart-shaped box of chocolates was introduced in 1861.
It was created by Richard Cadbury, son of Cadbury founder John Cadbury, who started packaging chocolates in fancy boxes to increase sales. He introduced the first heart-shaped box of chocolates for V-Day in 1861, and today, more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolates are sold each year. That's 58 million pounds of chocolate!
9. Conversation hearts got their start as medical lozenges.
Weirdly enough, the story of conversation hearts first began when a Boston pharmacist named Oliver Chase invented a machine that simplified making medical lozenges. The result was America's first candy-making machine, because the pharmacist soon started shifting his focus to making candy instead! Chase founded the New England Confectionery Company, or Necco, but it wasn't until 1866 that we first got sweet printed messages on conversation hearts. It was Oliver's brother, Daniel Chase, who started printing sentimental messages on the Necco sweethearts, though these candies were bigger than the versions we have today, and featured longer sayings and phrases. Like, "Married in white you have chosen right" and "How long shall I have to wait? Please be considerate."