With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, it’s time to begin thinking about gifts for those we love and admire. This is a day to celebrate love in all of its forms, and to show our appreciation for the people in our lives who inspire us and bring us happiness. One of the most popular ways to show your gratitude to those you care about on Valentine’s Day is giving gifts, and giving chocolate is especially associated with the holiday. Where does this tradition come from, and what does it mean? The ancient, multicultural origins of the practice may surprise you.
Chocolate’s Link to Love and Romance
For some reason, the association between chocolate and romance seems natural, almost as if it were eternally so. This presumption is not far from the truth, actually. The history of chocolate reveals that this common association has persisted across thousands of years and many cultures around the globe. Thousands of years ago, the Mayans were one of the first peoples to harvest and consume food and drink derived from cocoa. In Mayan wedding ceremonies, the couple would drink chocolate as a sign of their union and love for one another. This is believed to be the first instance of chocolate being associated with love and romance. This belief continued on after the fall of the Mayan empire in the nearby Aztec civilization, where chocolate was thought to be an aphrodisiac. The Spanish would eventually come into contact with the Aztecs, bringing cocoa back to Europe, and with it, its association with love.
Valentine’s Day and Chocolate
In European countries, and English-speaking countries especially, celebrations and feasts in honor of St. Valentine and of loved ones have a history stretching back for centuries, but giving chocolates is a relatively recent tradition. At first, chocolate was a luxury item that only the very rich and powerful could afford. However, the expansion of global trade meant that by the mid-19th century, cocoa products were more commonplace. Shortly after the process of making chocolate candy was refined, the Cadbury company in England capitalized on the association between chocolate and romance and came up with a heart-shaped box of chocolates, meant to be given as a gift on Valentine’s Day. The ornamental box was not only filled with delicious confections, it could be reused to store love notes, photos, and mementos. This product was a runaway success, and is likely the reason chocolate has become a favorite gift on Valentine’s Day. To help illustrate how crazy we are about giving chocolate on Valentine’s Day, it is estimated that 58 million pounds of chocolate are purchased in the week leading up to the holiday — and that’s just in the United States.
Valentine’s Day Around the World
Today, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in many different countries the world over, with different customs regarding chocolate. In Japan, women are expected to give chocolates to all the men they know. In recent years, it has been popular there and elsewhere in East Asia to celebrate “White Day” a month later on March 14th, where men give white chocolates to women. And in Israel, “Tu B’Av” is celebrated in the summertime, with many similar customs to Valentine’s Day in February.
No matter where you are or what time of year it is, giving chocolates is a wonderful way to show your love and appreciation for the important people in your life. With over 150 years of history, giving chocolates on Valentine’s Day has become a well-loved tradition. Spread joy to friends, family, and loved ones this Valentine’s Day with a gift of chocolate, and revel in the unique history and multicultural roots of this fun and delicious practice.
Matt Bonaccio graduated from Le Moyne College in 2018 with a Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy. He is a freelance writer and blogger who seeks to make thought-provoking connections to the real world in his work. In his free time, he enjoys playing the guitar (badly) and learning how strange, obsolete mechanical and electrical devices work.