Original Leisure & Entertainment

Fun Facts About Valentines ~ The History of Ordinary Things

Valentine was a common gender-neutral name during 3rd to 6th centuries. It is of Latin origin meaning “strong and healthy”. Valentine was the name of a 3rd century Christian martyr and saint whose feast falls on February 14, the traditional date celebrating spring. He is the patron saint of lovers, epileptics and beekeepers. Pope Galasius Ist declared Valentine’s Day in 496AD when he named the Feast of St. Valentine.

While Valentine suggests God’s unconditional love, it was only much later that Valentine’s Day became associated with love. In fact, Valentine’s Day as a lovers’ festival dates from the 14th century.

Where does Cupid fit into this story? Greek mythology (~700 BC) had a legend of Eros, meaning desire. Eros was the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. He was considered both handsome and threatening. He would cause mayhem with the hearts of men as he would use his power to make people fall into ruinous love. Circa 440 BC, Eros’ power is described as sinister.

When the Roman era began (~31BC), the ruling class adopted Greek mythology. This included the image of a cherub, whom they named Cupid, a synonym of Eros. Centuries later, Renaissance painters depicted the Cupid figure as a young, nude boy with wings and a bow. They attributed Cupid with a positive intent in promoting love.

During the Middle Ages, February 14 was associated with the beginning of birds’ mating season thus the link with romance. In 1415, the first written Valentine’s Day card is attributed to Charles, Duke of Orleans who penned a poem to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London.

The first commercially made Valentine cards were produced in 1849 in Massachusetts. In the 1860s, Richard Cadbury, of Cadbury Chocolates, England, was the first to package chocolates in heart-shaped boxes to increase sales. Cadbury originally sold cocoa for drinking. They introduced the first chocolate to be eaten, but the recipe was unpalatable by today’s standards. The Cadbury brothers removed the starchy materials. In 1897 they introduced the milk chocolate that we know today.

The greeting-card industry took off in the 1850s after Congress voted to decrease postage rates to avoid the privatization of the postal service. Mass printing machines and lower postal costs made it possible for everyday Americans to send and receive mail, typically postcards.

In 1910, Joyce C. Hall and his brother founded a postcard company in Kansas City, the Hall Brother’s Co. When postcard sales declined ~1916, they printed their own high-quality Valentine and Christmas cards to be mailed in envelopes. In 1954 they changed their name to Hallmark Cards.

World-wide ~one billion cards are sent annually for Valentine’s Day (not including children’s classroom cards). Nearly 85% are sold to women. Spending on the expression of affection in the U.S. totaled $23.9 billion in 2022 which included $6.2 billion for jewelry and over $2 billion for candy, mostly chocolate. Flowers, gift cards, food treats, wine and personalized items or experiences are popular.

Within this buying frenzy, Cupid’s reputation and imagery remain a mainstay in the expression of love and friendship. It is imbedded in the commercialization of Valentine’s Day. An alternative this year: BE Love.

Doris Montag

Doris Montag

Doris is a collector, a storyteller and a free-lance curator whose passion is unlocking the stories in collections from family or private individuals. She develops and installs exhibits in small museums, libraries, and public spaces. And she writes about her experiences in her column, The History of Ordinary Things. > Read Full Biography > More Articles Written By This Writer