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When you start to think of Valentine’s Day, you may envision gorgeous flower bouquets, heart shaped balloons, tons of sweet treats and sentimental cards that are sure to make you blush. But have you ever stopped to think about how this tradition of celebrating love on February 14 came to be? Look no further than our list of interesting and fun Valentine’s Day facts to inform you and your loved ones on the history behind why this special day of love is celebrated.
While some of these little-known truths about the holiday may be sort of expected, like how much Americans spend on the perfect V-Day gift or when the very first Valentine’s message was sent, others are more unusual. In fact, some of the earlier customs associated with the holiday were not romantic at all, but instead focused on fertility and included sacrificing animals. (We know, the complete opposite of a lovey-dovey grand gesture.)
Regardless of how much or how little you already know about the most loving day of the year, these factoids are sure to come in handy as an ice breaker for your Valentine’s Day party and will definitely give you the upper hand at any Galentine’s Day trivia night.
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, including one Valentine who was a priest in third century Rome. As the story goes, this Valentine defied Emperor Claudius II’s ban on marriage (he thought it distracted young soldiers), illegally marrying couples in the spirit of love until he was caught and sentenced to death.
Another legend suggests that 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. Valentine’s Day has its roots in an ancient Pagan festival.
Though some historians believe that Valentine’s Day commemorates the death of St. Valentine on February 14, others believe that the holiday actually has its origins in a Pagan fertility festival called “Lupercalia,” which was celebrated on February 15 in ancient Rome. Dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, and Roman founders Romulus and Remus, the day was celebrated by sacrificing animals and smacking women with animal hides, a practice that was believed to encourage fertility.
3. 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.
4. 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? According to Time, 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 intimidating 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.
5. The first valentine was sent in the 15th century.
The oldest record of a valentine being sent, according to History.com, 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.” Swoon!
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. Nearly 250 million roses are grown in preparation for Valentine’s Day each year.
There is a science to ensuring that there are enough fresh roses to go around when it comes to February 14. In an effort to provide the flowers for the holiday, countries including Ecuador, Kenya, or Columbia ship the roses to the U.S., since they do not grow in the colder temperatures we experience in February.
9. The color of flower given on Valentine’s Day holds meaning.
While a red rose has traditionally symbolized love, other colors like deep pink, purple or white — which symbolize happiness, royalty and sympathy respectively — may be given on the holiday too.
10. Today, Americans spend a lot on love.
According to the National Retail Foundation, Americans spent over $20 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts in 2019 and were expected to spend a record-breaking $27.4 billion for 2020 — including $2.4 billion on candy alone! People also expected to spend an average of approximately $196 for Valentine’s Day, with men spending around $291 compared to women spending $106.
11. 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. Needless to say, we’ve come a long way from 1913, which was when Hallmark Cards produced their first Valentine’s card.
12. Booklets were created to help people write valentines.
If you needed help finding the right words to send to your loved ones in the 19th century, you could purchase a Valentine’s Writer. The booklets contained sample text that could be used to express your love.
13. And they also spend millions of dollars on gifts for their pets.
Hey, furry friends need love, too! In fact, around 27.6 million American households gave Valentine’s Day presents to their pet dogs in 2020, and more than 17.1 million picked up gifts for their cats. All in all, American households spent an estimated $751.3 million on gifts for their pets on Valentine’s Day.
14. The Valentine’s Day gift that people spend the most on is jewelry.
Candy and flowers might be some of the most common gifts for Valentine’s Day, but according to the National Retail Federation, the category that we typically spend the most on for February 14 is jewelry, at a whopping $5.8 billion in 2020! The second most-paid-for gift on Valentine’s Day 2020 was an evening out with $4.3 billion, followed by clothing, candy and then flowers.
15. 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!
16. 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 the way medical lozenges — used for sore throats and other illnesses — could be made. The result was America’s first candy-making machine, because the pharmacist soon started shifting his focus from making lozenges to candy instead! Chase founded the New England Confectionery Company, or Necco, and the candy lozenges soon became what we know today as Necco wafers.
17. 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 much longer printed sayings and phrases. Some of the first messages? “Married in white you have chosen right” and “How long shall I have to wait? Please be considerate.”
18. More than 8 billion conversation hearts are manufactured each year.
And Necco has to start making them just days after February 14 to have enough in time for the next Valentine’s Day. That’s almost 100,000 pounds per day! Each box has approximately 45 sayings — including “True Love,” “Hug Me” and “You Rock” — but you can personalize your own, too. But don’t worry if you still have last year’s box — they have a shelf life of five years.
19. No one could get their hands on conversation hearts in 2019.
Necco went out of business in 2018 and sold Necco Wafers and Sweethearts to Spangler Candy, the creators of Dum Dum lollipops. Due to the new manufacturing needs, Spangler Candy was unable to produce 8 billion of the candy hearts for 2019. “There are a lot of manufacturing challenges and unanswered questions at this point, and we want to make sure these brands meet consumer expectations when they re-enter the market,” Spangler CEO and chairman Kirk Vashaw said at the time, according to Food Business News.
20. Words of encouragement were added to Sweethearts in 2022.
Spangler Candy decided to introduce new sayings to the famous Sweethearts last year. The iconic candies featured phrases like “WAY 2 GO,” “CRUSH IT” AND “HIGH FIVE,” making them perfect to share with friends or lovers.
21. Nearly 6 million couples get engaged on Valentine’s Day.
I mean, what better day is there for a marriage proposal than a day literally dedicated to love and romance? Valentine’s Day is one of the popular days to pop the question, with as many as 6 million couples getting engaged on February 14. And according to the results of this survey, Valentine’s Day was voted the best day of the year to propose than any other day — and of those people who voted, 40% were men!
22. It’s celebrated differently around the world.
Many Latin American countries know the holiday as el día de los enamorados (day of lovers) or día del amor y la amistad (day of love and friendship). Though couples exchange flowers and chocolate on this day, the holiday’s focus is also directed at showing gratitude to friends.
In Japan, it’s customary for just the women to give confections to the men in their lives, with the quality of the chocolate indicating their true feelings, according to Fortune. On March 14, exactly a month later, the men repay the favor by celebrating the increasingly popular “White Day.”
23. Valentine’s Day horror movies are a thing.
That’s right, some people prefer to get their heart rates up by watching a scary movie about the holiday. The popular 1981 film, My Bloody Valentine, is just one of many.
24. Galentine’s Day has risen in popularity.
The holiday, which is celebrated on February 13, was introduced by Amy Poehler’s Parks and Recreation character Leslie Knope in 2010. According to Knope, Galentine’s Day is all about “Ladies celebrating ladies. It’s like Lilith Fair, minus the angst. Plus, frittatas.” Research carried out by lingerie brand Boux Avenue, has found that searches for Galentine’s Day have increased 400% since 2015.
25. “XOXO” didn’t always mean hugs and kisses.
“XOXO” is a popular signature this time of year. The origins of the signature, however, stem from the Middle Ages. The Washington Post reported that during those times the “X” symbolized the Christian cross, and letters ended with the sign of the cross and a kiss to symbolize an oath. As the gesture became more popular in literature, letters and paperwork, it came to mean something had been “sealed with a kiss.”
26. Kids can be the real Valentine’s Day winners.
Valentine’s Day has typically been associated with romantic love and partnership. Interestingly enough, according to a Today show survey that polled 1,500 people, only 59% of spouses planned on giving their partners a gift, while 85% of parents planned to give their children something on February 14.
27. Lovebirds are actual birds.
While the term “lovebirds” has become a popular figure of speech, it’s also the common name for Agapornis birds. This bird is a type of parrot that is native to the continent of Africa and can be found throughout the eastern and southern regions. The animals typically travel in pairs, which is why many couples are referred to as lovebirds.
28. There is an official Valentine’s Day alternative for singles.
International Quirkyalone Day is the holiday for single people on the same date. The holiday isn’t an anti-Valentine’s Day event, but rather a moment to celebrate self love and platonic relationships. International Quirkyalone Day has been celebrated globally since 2003.
29. William Shakespeare inspired a tradition.
Writing “letters to Juliet” has become a Valentine’s Day tradition for many, and even inspired the 2010 film Letters to Juliet . Around Valentine’s Day, thousands of letters are sent to Verona, Italy addressed to the Romeo and Juliet character Juliet Capulet. These love letters to Juliet are filled with emotion, passion and, in many cases, heartbreak. Volunteers, called Juliet’s Secretaries, read through each letter, write responses and pick a winner of the “Cara Giulietta”(which translates to “Dear Juliet” in English) prize. The winner gets to visit Juliet’s home in Verona and attend a special ceremony.
30. Four states have a city named Valentine.
Arizona, Nebraska, Texas and Virginia each have cities with the name, although Virginia adds an “s” on the end. Apparently, in Virginia and Texas, you can get special holiday postmarks at the post office, how cute is that?
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