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Celebrating St Valentine

Valentine’s Day is an important calendar date for the chocolate world. So we’d love to use the opportunity to discuss chocolate and love, starting with a quick history of Valentine’s Day and how it became linked with chocolate. And in other articles, we’ll explore some of the facts and myths of chocolate as aphrodisiac.

Origins

Valentine’s Day’s origin is murky. Many academics cite its most likely origin as the Roman Festival of Lupercalia, where young Roman men would strip off, grab a whip and run after their (potential) partners to try to, 1, impress them and then, 2, spank them (in the hope of increasing their fertility).

Lots of alcohol and Bacchanalia was involved, and this festival continued through the decline of the Roman Empire. Indeed a variant of this tradition lives on in the Czech Republic and Hungary where on Easter Sunday men arm themselves with a whip called a pomlázka, and go from door to door, spanking women on the bottom. The women then soak the men with a bucket of cold water.

St Valentine

The Catholic Church recognises a number of different saints called Valentine; many of who’s martyrdoms and miracles are lost to history.

The mechanics by which (one or more) of these Saint Valentines became associated with romance and Valentine’s Day is also murky. Most stories revolve around a Roman priest, called Valentine, who was put to death by the Emperor Claudius in 269AD for refusing to renounce his faith. Pope Gelasius added St Valentine to the calendar of Saints in 496AD with his honouring on the 14th of February (i.e., the day before Lupercalia). And at the same time, Pope Gelasius banned Lupercalia as a “pagan festival” to be replaced by Christian customs such as honouring St Valentine’s heroism.

As time went on, more and more legends have been associated with St Valentine, including:

  • When Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men on the basis that single men make better soldiers, St Valentine defied this rule by continuing to marry young lovers. When Claudius discovered these clandestine marriages, he had St Valentine put to death.
  • Before being put to death St Valentine is said to have sent the first ever Valentine’s Day card. After falling in love with his jailor’s daughter, he wrote her a letter signed ‘from your Valentine’.
  • St Valentine is also said to have “cut hearts from parchment … to remind of our vows to God’s love” and give these to soldiers and persecuted Christians, giving rise the widespread use of hearts on St Valentines day.

Despite the charming nature of these stories, their historical accuracy is dubious. For example, Claudius II is recorded to have encouraged his soldiers to “take two or three women as wives” after his successful wars against the Goths. And quite why a celibate priest would write a love letter to his jailor’s daughter raises a number of other questions.

However, it did give the Church a celebration and some great stories to counter the pagan licentiousness of Lupercalia.

From Chaucer to Cadbury

The first direct record we have of Valentine’s day as a romantic occasion in England is Geoffrey Chaucer in his 1375 poem ‘The Parliament of Foules’ where he wrote ‘For this was Seynt Valentyne’s day / When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate”.

William Shakespeare, John Donne, Edmund Spenser and a raft of poets and authors have continued this tradition of linking romance, love and St Valentines, and provided great fodder for various card makers. Indeed in the 18th and 19th centuries publishers produced various books with verses, rhymes and doggerels for young lovers to copy and send to their ‘Valentines’.

Until recently Valentine’s day was celebrated with lovers exchanging love notes and such. Chocolate wasn’t involved (nor were flowers or roses). This oversight is odd given that the likes of Casanova, Charles II, Montezuma and the Marquis de Sade were all convinced that chocolate is an aphrodisiac so they clearly were missing a trick (for more on chocolate as an aphrodisiac, please see next week’s blog post).

Chocolate and Valentine’s Day

It wasn’t until the late 19th century that chocolate started to be linked with St Valentine’s day. In thanks to some changes in the way we consumed chocolate and some super smart marketing.

During the 19th century, chocolate moved from being a liquid drink to a solid bar, bonbons, etc. that are eaten (for more on this, please come to a virtual tasting).

And this opened up all sorts of opportunities.

For example, this transition to bars and bonbons inspired Richard Cadbury to seize on the Victorian fascination with gifting cupid themed boxes for “keepsakes” on Valentine’s day. With hindsight, the move is obvious, but Cadbury was the first to created a love heart shaped “Fancy Box” full of chocolate bonbons and chocolate covered fruits. Cadbury launched these boxes in 1868 and the rest is history. Chocolate and Valentine’s day have been intimately linked, with the US alone gifting and sharing more than 40 million boxes of chocolates on Valentine’s Day.

Today

Craft chocolate is all about sharing and giving. And whatever your views on the veracity of the legends surrounding St Valentine’s day, show your passion to your beloved with some craft chocolate (see below for some suggestions).

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