Every year in the month of February (or let’s be honest- as soon as Christmas is over) store shelves are flooded with chocolates and candies in heart-shaped boxes adorned with little Cupids shooting their arrows and messages of love and affection. It’s a sight so common that we don’t even give it a second thought, but what many people don’t realize is that giving chocolates on V-Day is actually a fairly new tradition, in the grand scheme of history at any rate.
So first, a brief history of Valentine’s (or more formally – Saint Valentine’s) Day:
This holiday-that’s-not-really-a-holiday is a long-standing tradition in the English-speaking world, with the first known reference to the celebration found in the writings of English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in 1382. People celebrated by sending letters and gifts to their loved ones on February 14.
Now chocolate does seem to make sense as a gift on a day like Valentine’s Day. Chocolate comes from the Theobroma cacao tree, which is Greek for “food of the Gods”. What better way to show affection than to give a gift reserved for the divine, right? Not to mention that historically chocolate has been a symbol of affection, attraction, deep love, luxury, passion and sensuality- another reason it would make perfect sense as a V-day gift. Surprisingly, though, none of this has anything to do with why chocolate is a Valentine’s staple!
Giving chocolate as a gift did not start until 1861, when a savvy chocolate-maker (and apparent marketing genius) Richard Cadbury created a heart-shaped box adorned with beautiful decorations and Valentine’s Day imagery to hold his edible chocolates.
Quick background on Richard Cadbury: a few years earlier he had created a better process for making hot cocoa that resulted in large amounts of leftover cocoa butter. In an effort to reduce waste, he then invented a method for adding the cocoa butter back into the cocoa to create the world’s first “edible chocolate”. Clearly we know who the real MVP is in this situation.
Back to the boxes: they were made with a dual-purpose in mind. Once the chocolates were finished, the boxes could be kept to hold love letters and other little trinkets of the receiver’s love story.
It goes without saying that this practice caught on like wildfire, which brings us to present-day with our store shelves exploding these heart-shaped boxes. Turns out the chocolate tradition was born out of a clever marketing ploy! Somehow we’re not surprised. Not that we’re complaining- we’ll take any excuse to eat a little extra chocolate!
Members of the English-speaking world aren’t the only ones who celebrate with chocolate this time of year. Citizens of China, Japan, South Korea and Taiwan recognize their own holiday called “White Day”. On February 14th the women give their gifts to the men, and one month later on March 14th, the men return the favour. Gifts usually include white chocolate chip cookies, jewellery, white chocolate, white lingerie and marshmallows…hence the whole “white day” thing. The catch? White day gifts are expected to cost 2-3 times the amount that of the Valentine’s. Sorry fellas.
So whether you’re giving something sweet to the special person in your life or treating yourself to a little Valentine’s gift (#selflove amirite?) this February, don’t forget to thank Richard Cadbury for blessing us with all those post V-day chocolate sales!