On February 14th lovers exchange cards, letters, chocolates, flowers, and jewelry (most commonly), and celebrate Valentine’s Day. By the looks of it, it would seem that this holiday has a romantic and happy story behind it, but you might be surprised. Saint Valentine’s Day’s history isn’t as bright as you might imagine. Find out the 12 interesting facts about Valentine’s Day that can help you learn how this holiday started, who St. Valentine was, what was the first Valentine ever written, and much more.
1. Valentine’s Day is connected to a pagan festival
2. There are two St. Valentines
You probably know that this holiday got its name from its patron saint named St. Valentine, but one of the weird facts about Valentine’s Day is that we don’t know which St. Valentine it is. One St. Valentine lived as a priest in Rome in the third century. According to the legend, he was against the ban on marriage that Emperor Claudius II proclaimed, who had considered it distracting for young soldiers. St. Valentine would illegally marry couples and celebrate their love until he was caught and sentenced to death.
There is another legend though, and it says that another priest named St. Valentine helped Christians in Rome escape prison, and got imprisoned himself for doing so. The legend says that he sent the very first valentine’s message while he was in prison and signed the letter “From Your Valentine.” Surprisingly, whether or not this legend is true, the account of the first valentine suggests that it was written while locked up.
3. The first valentine was written by a man in prison
Dark parts of the Saint Valentine’s Day history don’t end there because the first valentine was written by a man in the least romantic place that you could think of: a prison. Duke of Orleans was captured during the Battle of Agincourt when he was 21 and he was imprisoned. His name was Charles and he wrote his second wife a love letter in the 15th century while he was captured in the Tower of London. “I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine,” he wrote. He went on to spend 20 more years in his cell without being able to see his lover’s reaction to the poem.
4. Cupid was a handsome, immortal man who had powers
You know him as a chubby little baby that holds a bow and an arrow, but you may find one fun fact about Valentine’s Day to be that he used to be a handsome Greek god, Eros. This immortal man had the power to make people hate each other or fall in love, thanks to his magical arrows. This was in 700 B.C. He became Cupid in the 4th century B.C. when the Romans used the image of a cute young boy holding a bow and an arrow to represent Eros and gave him the name Cupid. The turn of the 19th century linked Cupid with Valentine’s Day because of his special powers to create love and match people.
5. A woman got rich by making Valentine’s Day cards
When celebrating this holiday started to get popular, people would give each other handwritten notes to express their love on Valentine’s Day. This became a practice in the United States in the early 1700s, and by the mid-1800s Esther A. Howland started selling pre-made valentines. Her business idea turned out to be lucrative. Real lace, ribbons, and sweet ideas made these sentimental cards a hit in the United States. Howland was called “Mother of the American Valentine” and she made around $100,000 a year, which would be $3 million now.
According to Hallmark, one of the fun facts about Valentine’s Day is that it’s the second most popular holiday for giving greeting cards, right after Christmas. Today, an astonishing number of Valentine’s Day cards get passed out in the United States – but we’ll touch more on that later.
6. A man made heart-shaped boxes and forever tied Valentine’s Day to chocolate
Just like we can’t imagine Valentine’s Day without sentimental cards, we also can’t imagine it without chocolate. The man responsible for this is Richard Cadbury, whose father was a manufacturer of Cadbury Chocolate. Richard began packaging the chocolate in heart-shaped boxes to drive up sales, but he probably had no idea exactly how genius his idea was. These beautiful heart-shaped boxes sold like crazy, and the first one was bought in the 1860s. Now, 36 million of these cute boxes of chocolate get sold every year. Apparently, people love chocolate with caramel the most, but chocolate-covered nuts are a hit as well. Most of Valentine’s Day sales of candy come from chocolate, in fact, 75 percent of Valentine’s Day candy is chocolate. Makes sense, since not a lot of candy can be as romantic as delicious chocolate. I mean, can you imagine opening a heart-shaped box of gummy bears? It just doesn’t exactly scream “romance”.
7. Flowers were the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day ever since the Victorian era
Lovers often give each other flowers as gifts, especially red roses and especially on Valentine’s Day. But when did this custom first start? Red roses were the favorite posy of the Roman goddess Venus, who was Cupid’s mother and goddess of love. So, red roses symbolized romance even in the days of ancient Rome. However, men started giving flowers to the women they were trying to seduce in the Victorian era. Thanks to the flower farms in Columbia and Ecuador, roses are now a lot cheaper than they were back then, so we give and receive them more often. A particularly interesting fact about Valentine’s Day is that half of all flowers bought on this holiday are roses, and more flowers are sold on this day than any other; including Mother’s Day and Christmas.
8. Conversation hearts weren’t the company’s original plan
You know those little candy hearts with Valentine messages that we see every year on this holiday? Well, in the beginning, they were being made by the machine that was invented to create medical lozenges. The pharmacist who originated the design had a change of heart and switched from making cough drops to making candy wafers. The company was rebranded, and it became known as Necco, New England Confectionery Company. By the year 1866, the company was creating candy printed with text such as “How long shall I have to wait? Please be considerate,” and “Married in white you have chosen right.” It took them thirty-five more years to start producing this candy in the shape we all know today.
The heart-shaped candy with messages was a hit back then, and it still is now. Every day, around 100,000 pounds of this candy is made to prepare for Valentine’s Day. This means that 8 billion of these talkative hearts are made every year.
9. 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sold every year
According to Hallmark, they produced the first Valentine’s Day card in 1913, and now, 145 million of them are sold every year and exchanged on this romantic holiday. On February 14th, lovers and friends exchange these cards, but there are even more of them if you count the kids’ valentines that are given away in classrooms. One of the weird facts about Valentine’s Day is that teachers are the ones who get the most cards on this holiday. After them, most cards go to children, mothers, and wives. Have you bought your Valentine’s card already? You don’t have to give it to a romantic partner, it can be a gift to anyone you care about! Don’t worry because you can still celebrate this date as a single person – there’s even an official holiday for that.
10. The most common Valentine’s Day gift is jewelry
We associate this holiday with heart-shaped candy and beautiful flowers, but these things are surprisingly not what we spend the most money on during Valentine’s Day. National Retail Federation says that we spend most of our money on jewelry on February 14th, and we’re not talking about a small amount of money either! The surprising $5.8 billion was spent on jewelry for Valentine’s Day in 2020! After jewelry, the thing we spend our money on during this holiday is an evening out, which cost $4.3 billion in 2020. We also buy clothing, candy, and flowers, in that order. Do you already have a special gift planned for your valentine this year? You can’t go wrong with jewelry, but flowers and chocolate with a sentimental card are also a great traditional gift that will earn you lots of kisses. If you’re looking for a special way to celebrate, check out “35 Unique Valentine’s Day Date Ideas That Go Way Beyond Dinner and a Movie.”
11. Almost 6 million lovers get engaged on February 14th
12. There’s an official holiday for single people on February 14th
When you look at all those couples celebrating their love, you have to ask yourself what happens to single people on Valentine’s Day? Being single on Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and you can celebrate a separate holiday especially made for single people. The International Quirkyalone Day is on February 14th and it’s meant for everyone who is still searching for their other half. The holiday is not an anti-Valentine’s Day holiday, it’s just meant to celebrate platonic relationships and self-love instead of putting all the focus on romantic love. Let’s not forget that we should love ourselves first and celebrate the love we have with our friends and family as well.
Happy Valentine’s Day!