10 Surprising Valentine's Day Facts
Wednesday Jan 17th, 2024
When February 14 comes along, we can expect to exchange messages of love through thoughtful cards, flower bouquets and heart-shaped boxes of chocolate. While these actions are small, they're sure to make your loved one's heart skip a beat. But as sentimental as the holiday may be, have you ever thought about why we celebrate Valentine's Day in the first place? Believe it or not, it wasn't always a celebration of love. Yep, it's true. But that's not all. We've found so many more interesting Valentine's Day facts that will make the holiday more fun.
While there's plenty of tidbits that just make sense for the holiday – like how over 8 billion candy hearts are produced every year! – there are some truths that aren't as sweet. To give you a sneak peek into the history of Valentine's Day, centuries ago, people celebrated by sacrificing animals to encourage fertility. It wasn't until the 1300s that it became an official holiday associated with love.
If you're looking for more fun pieces of info. to share at your party this year, keep scrolling!
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 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 nearly $26 billion on Valentine's Day gifts in 2023. People were also expected to spend an average of approximately $193 for Valentine's Day.
BY CAMERON JENKINS AND LILLI IANNELLA