Fun Facts about Valentine’s Day

Pam North, Peak to Peak

It’s that time of year again, when couples try to think of the perfect way to celebrate the love they have for each other on the holiday that was invented solely for that purpose. Valentine’s Day is big business.

History and Traditions

February 14 has long been associated with love and fertility, and it was believed that birds traditionally chose their mates on that day. The Romans introduced a pagan fertility festival in Britain that was held every February 14th, and after the Romans left the country, Pope Gelasius, who had established that day as a celebration of love in 496 A.D., abolished the pagan festival. The name Valentine comes from the word valor, meaning worthy.

One legend of St. Valentine contends that he was a third-century priest in Rome. Emperor Claudius II had outlawed marriage, believing that single men made better warriors, but Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret, leading to his being put to death when Claudius discovered his transgressions. Valentine’s Day allegedly even may have been named for two men, both Christian martyrs with that name and both associated with romantic love in the Middle Ages. Another claim is that the Church decided to celebrate the feast of Valentine in an effort to “Christianize” the celebrants of a pagan festival, Lupercalia, that was held in mid-February.

Cupid, a symbol of Valentine’s Day, was the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. A Roman myth says that Cupid, while carrying nectar to the gods on Mt. Olympus, spilled the liquid, and on that spot roses grew in profusion.

An ancient Celtic tradition of giving hand-carved wooden love spoons as Valentine’s gifts began in Wales, and often the designs carved on them were keys and hearts, symbolizing that the receiver had unlocked the giver’s heart. A love knot is a symbol of undying love, as its twisting loops have no beginning and no end. In the past, they were made of ribbon or drawn on paper to prove one’s eternal love.

In the Middle Ages, people believed that the first unmarried person of the opposite sex that they met on the morning of Valentine’s Day was the person they were destined to marry. Girls ate unusual foods on that day to make them dream of their future husbands. It also was believed that if a woman saw a robin flying overhead on that day, she would marry a sailor. During the mid-17th century, even married folk chose a valentine, and that person was not always their significant other.

Valentine’s Day is mentioned in Hamlet, when Ophelia sings, “Good morrow / ‘Tis Valentine’s Day / All in the morning betime / And I a maid at your window / To be your valentine!” Every Valentine’s Day the Italian city of Verona, where Shakespeare’s lovers Romeo and Juliet lived in legend, receives about 1,000 letters addressed to Juliet.

St. Valentine’s Day became an official holiday in 1537, when England’s Henry VIII declared it so for the first time.

The most notorious St. Valentine’s Day occurred in 1929, when seven people were gunned down in Chicago. Al Capone’s gang had planned the shooting to kill Bugs Moran, who managed to escape the massacre.

In addition to the U.S., Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Australia, Denmark and Italy. The most fantastic gift of love is the Taj Mahal in India, built by Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan as a memorial to his wife.


Greeting Cards

The oldest known valentine that is still in existence today was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, and his greeting is now preserved in London’s British Library.

Elaborate handmade love messages, cards and gifts for Valentine’s Day became popular during the 17th century. Approximately 145 million valentines are sent in the U.S. each year, according to estimates by the U.S. Greeting Card Association. That’s second only the 160 billion Christmas cards sent in the U.S. Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines. Teachers will receive the most Valentine’s Day cards, followed by children, mothers, wives, sweethearts and pets.

Chocolate, Candy, and Gifts

As an elixir for love, chocolate has been believed throughout history to bring smiles to the broken-hearted and to prompt amorous feelings in both men and women. Physicians of the 1800s commonly advised their patients to eat chocolate to calm their pining for lost love. It is believed that Madame DuBarry served it to all her suitors. Casanova, well known as “The World’s Greatest Lover,” consumed chocolate instead of champagne to induce romance; and Montezuma, the king of the ancient Aztecs, believed chocolate would make him virile.

Richard Cadbury produced the first box of chocolates for Valentine’s Day in the late 1800s. More than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate will be sold for Valentine’s Day. Over $1 billion worth of chocolate is purchased for Valentine’s Day in the U.S. American men list their Valentine’s Day candy preferences as: 1) boxed chocolates; 2) gourmet high-end chocolates; 3) conversation heart candies. At one time, conversation candies were made into non-heart shapes, including horseshoes, baseballs and watches.

A majority of men (53%) admit that they lean on friends and family to find the perfect present for their sweetheart, while 11% look to co-workers, 10% ask the cashier, and 7% consult the internet. In the U.S., 64% to 75% of men testify that they plan ahead for Valentine’s Day, even if they don’t make the final purchases until the last few days.

When it comes to presents, women prefer a gift after a nice dinner, while most men prefer a gift first thing in the morning. American men and women agree that the most romantic place to share candy is in front of the fireplace (and possibly eating it off each other). 220,000 is the average number of wedding proposals on Valentine’s Day each year.

On average, men shell out $130 each on candy, cards, jewelry, flowers and dates – that’s more than double what women commit to spending. Children receive 39% of all Valentine’s Day candy and gifts. Following them are wives/mothers (36%), fathers/husbands (6%), grandparents (3%), and pets (1%). About 3% of pet owners will give Valentine’s Day gifts to their pets.


73% of people who buy flowers for Valentine’s Day are men, while only 27% are women; 15% of U.S. women send themselves flowers on Valentine’s Day.

Red roses are considered the flower of love because the color red stands for strong romantic feelings. The red rose was the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Approximately 189 million stems of roses are sold in the U.S. on Valentine’s Day. California produces 60 percent of American roses, but the greater number sold on Valentine’s Day in the U.S. are imported, mostly from South America. Approximately 110 million roses, mostly red, will be sold and delivered within the three-day Valentine’s Day time period.

Valentine’s Day—it’s all about love.