To help mark Valentine’s Day on Feb. 14, here are 14 facts about a holiday whose history goes beyond cards, flowers and chocolates.
1. Valentine’s Day is celebrated all around the globe. There are unique celebrations on every continent. In Wales, lovers traditionally exchange wooden spoons to express their sentiments. In the Philippines, the date is associated with mass state-sanctioned weddings, and in South Africa, couples literally wear their hearts on their sleeves — pinned paper ones.
2. The ancient Romans are credited with the date’s origins. According to historians, the annual pagan festival Lupercalia, held Feb. 13-15 in Rome, featured a matchmaking lottery for couples and half-naked men who ran through the streets, striking women with thongs cut from the skins of newly killed goats, thought to result in fertility.
3. St. Valentine was a wedding planner. In the third century, Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, so he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, a priest at the time, realized the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered him beheaded.
4. The Middle Ages were quite romantic. Romantic notions associated with modern Valentine’s Day may also spring from the medieval belief that birds mate on Feb. 14. Geoffrey Chaucer’s14th-century poem “Parliament of Fowls” describes a group of birds that gather together in the early spring — on “seynt valentynes day” — to choose their mates.
5. William Shakespeare paid tribute to thee. The romantic poet and dramatist mentions St. Valentine’s Day in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and “Hamlet,” where he alludes to the superstition that if two single people meet on St. Valentine’s Day, they’ll likely get married.
6. Valentine’s Day turned riotous in France. According to legend, women who were rejected by their desired valentine would burn those men in effigy in a bonfire.
7. Thomas Edison may have invented the first rom-com. The famed inventor produced “The Kiss,” one of the first films shown commercially to the public. The 18-second production was considered risqué because it depicts a reenactment of the kiss between May Irwin and John Rice from the final scene of the stage musical “The Widow Jones.”
8. One card designer is known as the “Mother of the Valentine.” As early as 1800, companies began mass-producing greeting cards. By the early 20th century, designer Esther A. Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in the United States, becoming known as the “Mother of the Valentine.”
9. Roses are red, violets are blue — and flowers continue to be a popular gift. The tradition of giving Valentine’s Day flowers dates back to the late 17th century, during the reign of Sweden’s King Charles II, who adopted a new art: communicating through the language of flowers. The long-stemmed red roses synonymous with Valentine’s Day started as a tradition in the United Kingdom.
10. Richard Cadbury created the first heart box of chocolates. During the Victorian era, Richard Cadbury of the British chocolate manufacturing family recognized a great marketing opportunity and started selling the improved product in beautifully decorated boxes he designed himself.
11. “Valentining” probably inspired class parties and shoeboxes. In England, children used to go door to door asking for treats on Valentine’s Day, similar to Halloween. The practice of “valentining” grew out of hand and sometimes erupted into violence, so a push for more genteel celebrations with a focus on exchanging cards began.
12. Candy hearts went away, then made a comeback. Necco, which made the pastel-colored conversation hearts, suddenly shut down its candy production in 2018. Spangler Candy Co. then acquired the rights to Necco’s brands and brought the hearts back last year.
13. Today, Valentine’s Day is no longer just for couples. There are a variety of ways to celebrate in the modern era. Two examples: Female friends celebrate one another as “galentines,” while pet lovers take the opportunity to give gifts to their furry friends.
14. The Postal Service loves Valentine’s Day. In addition to delivering lots of valentines each year, the organization continues its tradition of releasing Love stamps around the holiday. This year’s stamp debuted Jan. 14.