Student Interest

How Chocolate Became a Valentine’s Day Tradition

 

Valentine’s day—roses, letters and…chocolate. Every year on February 14th, people worldwide celebrate love, romance, and even friendship by gifting each other items like these. But how did all this come to be? And how did an ordinary sweet like chocolate become such a staple in the celebration? 

 

Valentine’s Day, also called Saint Valentine’s Day, originated as a Christian feast day, possibly with Roman roots. It dates all the way back to the end of the 5th century, when in AD 496, Pope Gelasius declared February 14th as St. Valentine’s Day, honoring the martyr Saint Valentine. However, the association between chocolate and Valentine’s Day is relatively recent, dating back to fewer than 200 years ago. And it’s all thanks to marketing and commercialization. 

 

Before the Industrial Revolution that took place between 1760 and 1840, chocolate (and sugar in general) was a luxury exclusively associated with the nobility and higher class, as only the rich had access to the sweet dessert. According to Charles Feldman, professor of food studies and food systems at Montclair State University, chocolate’s exclusivity meant it was a symbol of money and power; hence it became associated with masculinity. 

 

However, by the 19th century, sugar became a basic commodity, and chocolate became accessible to the working class by extension. Its popularity among the working class meant its connotations shifted, and as women also began indulging in it, the product’s implications moved from masculine to feminine in the market. Feminine aspects, such as sweetness, softness indulgence, began to be associated with chocolate. Nevertheless, it was until Richard Cadbury, who worked for his father’s chocolate manufacturing company, started packaging chocolate in heart-shaped boxes, which doubled as a compartment to store love notes, that the idea of chocolate and love became popularized. The heart-shaped box took the market by storm, coming in a variety of styles—some covered in silk, satin, lace, or ribbons—it quickly became a selling point as a gift for the ladies.  By the 1930s, the vast majority of American chocolate manufacturers advertised chocolate confections towards women.  

 

Nowadays, chocolate has remained a staple in Valentine’s Day celebrations, all as a result of a brilliant marketing campaign back in 1861. Some are annoyed at how much this celebration has been commercialized and pushed continuously by media and ads. While others genuinely enjoy the holiday, not purely because of materialism, but because of the idea of exchanging gifts and the meaning it holds. 

 

Despite both sides of the argument, the truth is, Valentine’s Day or not, chocolate is always good.

 

References

Barber, Casey. “How Chocolate Fell in Love with Valentine’s Day.” CNN, 12 Feb. 2021, edition.cnn.com/2021/02/12/health/history-of-chocolate-valentines-day-wellness/index.html.

Butler, Stephanie. “How Chocolate Became a Valentine’s Day Staple.” HISTORY, HISTORY, 8 Feb. 2013, www.history.com/news/valentines-day-chocolate-box-history-cadbury.

History.com Editors. “History of Valentine’s Day.” HISTORY, HISTORY, 22 Dec. 2009, www.history.com/topics/valentines-day/history-of-valentines-day-2.

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