Cover Photo Courtesy of Lewis Clarke on Wikimedia Commons
From chocolates to flowers, from cards to jewelry, Valentine’s Day is a time for giving gifts to those you love. But how did Valentine’s Day become what it is today? How did it grow into a huge commercial holiday? Let’s find out more about how it all got started and how it’s evolved to where it is today.
Valentine’s Day originated from the legends surrounding the death of St. Valentine. However, who specifically he was, and what specifically he did, is shrouded in mystery. In fact, the Catholic Church recognizes at least 3 separate saints who were named either Valentine or Valentinus. While there are even more legends than this, they all tell the story of St. Valentine dying in a heroic way on February 14th, causing that day to be called the Feast of St. Valentine in his honor.
But how was it associated with love and romance? While some believe that it was due to St. Valentine’s reputation as the “patron saint of lovers,” others claim that celebrating St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February was done in order to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia (History). Lupercalia was a fertility festival celebrated by the Roman people dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus, and the two founding leaders of Rome, Romulus and Remus. While Lupercalia supposedly did survive the initial rise of Christianity, it was outlawed by Pope Gelasius I at the end of the 5th century. It is also believed that Gelasius replaced Lupercalia by declaring February 14th be celebrated as St. Valentines Day, but the holiday would not become celebrated as a day of romance until about the 14th century.
Valentine’s Day did not become popular until around the 17th century, and along with it came the tradition of gifting Valentine’s Day flowers. Valentine’s cards did not grow into the mainstream until the 18th century, and at this point they were all handmade. Pre-printed cards did not show up until later in the 18th century in Britain, with the oldest surviving example on display in York Castle Museum, dating back to 1797. The early 19th century and the industrialisation of Britain allowed Valentine’s cards to be mass-produced more than ever before. By the mid 1820s, an estimated 200,000 Valentines were circulated in London alone (HistoryExtra). According to the RoyalExaminer, it wasn’t until 1861 that an English candy maker named Richard Cadbury had the idea to sell chocolates specifically for Valentine’s Day and package them in heart-shaped boxes, popularizing this way of selling it.
Now, Valentine’s Day has become a major holiday for the buying and selling of chocolates, flowers, cards, and other romantic gifts to mark the occasion. On average, consumers in the US planned to spend $175.41 in 2022, combining for an expected total of $23.9 billion spent. This was an increase from the $21.8 billion in 2021, and is the second highest yearly amount people planned to spend on record (the highest being $27.4 billion in 2020) (NRF).
However you enjoy spending Valentine’s Day, it’s always fun to look back and see how the holiday we know today grew over time into what it is now.