St. Valentine, we hardly knew you. Considering there were two different St. Valentines during the Roman era, no wonder there is confusion about who he really was and why he became associated with love.
Geoffrey Chaucer was one of the first to recognize, in writing, the connection between the Roman mystery man and romance. In his poem, Parliament of Foules, written in 1382, he writes
For this was Saint Valentine’s Day
When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.
It’s not exactly greeting card material, but it is one of the first written records of the day being associated with love.
After Chaucer waxed poetic about the day, others got in the game, creating little poems and cards to give to their sweethearts. The oldest surviving example is in the British Museum. It is a love poem from 1477 and you can see and read about it here http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/642175.stm
Later, in the 15th century, Charles Duke of Orleans would offer a little ditty to his wife and further cement the connection between love and Valentine’s Day
I am already sick of love,
My very gentle Valentine
You can practically see Charles coming home from a hard day of oppressing peasants with a box of chocolates tucked under his arm to give to the little wife. However, the only chocolate available at the time was a bitter version of hot chocolate introduced to Europe from South America by the Conquistadors.
Romantic men all over the western world would have to wait another three hundred years before the little heart-shaped boxes went on sale. In the mid-1800’s, Richard Cadbury invented a way to mix chocolate and cocoa butter to make a sweeter, more edible chocolate. To sell his new creation, he offered them in fancy boxes and the Victorians snapped them up. Whether chocolate shops put them out the day after Christmas is still open to historical debate.
Along with these new-fangled chocolates, Victorians exchanged homemade Valentine’s Day cards. It wasn’t until an enterprising American woman, Esther Howland came on the scene that mass produced cards became available. Esther had started making cards by hand, but when demand for her designs outpaced her production abilities, she began manufacturing them in bulk. Now, husbands all across America and Britain could panic and rush to the store to by a mass produced sentiment to go along with their heart shaped boxes.
Happy Valentine’s Day!