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In ancient Rome, the middle of February used to be the Wolf Festival – when the men would sacrifice goats and dogs and run around wearing goat-skin thongs and whipping the young women to promote fertility.
Luckily, that tradition hasn’t persisted and Feb 14 was declared St. Valentine’s Day in 496. There are several legends behind the holiday – one of the most popular is that Saint Valentine of Rome was imprisoned for performing weddings for Christians who were persecuted in the Roman Empire and soldiers who were not allowed to marry.
These days, Saint Valentine’s Day is an official feast day in the Lutheran Church and the Anglican Communion. However, most of us just think of it as the day that we give gifts and act extra romantic to our sweethearts.
But where exactly did the tradition of Valentine’s Day gifts come from and why do we give the gifts that we do? Here are a few of the common gifts and the history behind them:
A Bouquet of Flowers
Giving loved ones flowers really came into fashion in the Middle Ages, when the strict guidelines of the church prevented couples from showing their affection for each other in public.
Since they couldn’t secretly send each other texts at the time, they had to give each other flowers that had special meanings. It was somewhat like a secret code, but in flower form. Each colour and type of flower carried with it a different message about how the giver felt about the receiver, whether they were just friends or something more. The practice continued up to the Victorian era and many books were written on what different flowers said and how to arrange them to send a message to the recipient.
These days, most people don’t know what each flower means – but they know that giving flowers is a romantic gesture that is appreciated on this special day. If you want to give your sweetheart some flowers, check out Fresh Flowers’ selection of Valentines Day roses.
A Box of Chocolates
Chocolate has long been considered an aphrodisiac. French courtesans would feed it to their lovers to encourage their arousal and stamina. In ancient Mayan culture, couples would feed each other chocolate at their wedding in anticipation of the wedding night.
Perhaps we still give chocolate to our lovers on Valentine’s Day because of these natural aphrodisiac effects. The caffeine and theobromine in chocolate will increase your heartbeat, Serotonin will give you a sense of happiness and phenylethylamine will simulate the feeling of love in the brain.
The tradition of chocolates in a heart shaped box came from Richard Cadbury, who invented a chocolate-making technique that made chocolate softer, tastier and easier to eat. He recognised that love-obsessed Victorians in the 1840s were showering each other with romantic cards and gifts, so he started selling his chocolates in elegantly decorated boxes that he had designed himself. The beautiful heart-shaped boxes had two purposes, once the chocolates had been eaten most people would store mementoes from their lovers inside – such as a love letter or a lock or hair.
A Romantic Card
In the Middle Ages, couples used to sing songs or recite verses to each other to show their love – it wasn’t until the 15th century when they started to write down their messages. Thank goodness they did – it would be pretty embarrassing if the guy who had a crush on you stopped you in the hallway and started singing to you.
It is thought that the first written Valentine’s greeting came from Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife, sent while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. Commercial Valentine’s Day cards were produced and sold since the early 1800s, but they really became popular in the early 1900s when Hall Brother’s Co. (later Hallmark) started manufacturing them en masse in 1913.
These are just a few of the strange and interesting traditions behind the common gifts that we give on Valentine’s Day to our sweethearts – so you can impress your date this year with your historical knowledge.