Are you endlessly scrolling through your phone to find the perfect Valentine’s gift, with no idea what to choose or why? Why not take a break and let us tell you about the history of Valentine’s Day gifts and what a chosen gift could signify to your loved one.
Let’s start right back at the beginning...
When did Valentine’s Day start?
There are many stories associated with the origins of Valentine’s Day, including the Feast of Lupercalia from Roman times, celebrated from the 13th-15th February. Part of the festival included a ‘matchmaking lottery’ where young men would be paired with a woman by drawing her name from a jar.
Although there are conflicting accounts (and at least three different people who the history books suggest could be him!), many believe Saint Valentine was a Roman priest, who was martyred. The Encyclopedia Britannica states that, “According to legend, St. Valentine signed a letter “from your Valentine'' to his jailer’s daughter and this is often cited as the first Valentine’s note to be sent...Another common legend states that he defied the Roman emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from war.”
It was actually back in 496 AD that the 14th February was designated in Christianity as the Feast of Saint Valentine, by Pope Gelasius.
Moving forward a few centuries, a Valentine’s Day we may recognise started around the 14th Century and is referred to in a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer. By the 1500s, sending romantic messages, verses and poems became popular, both in person and anonymously, and records show that by this time the 14th February was formally referred to as a ‘festival of love’.
Shakespeare even mentions Saint Valentine’s Day in two of his plays, both A Midsummer Night’s Dream (c.1600) and Hamlet (c.1609).
It is Samuel Pepys diaries, from 1661, that we find find the mention of actual Valentine's gifts given by men to women they are trying to impress. Samuel himself refers to a special shopping trip with his wife, where he buys her some gloves. Lucky lady!
It wasn’t until the 1700s that the sending of Valentine’s cards became more common. So essentially the sentiment of secret love messages and the showering of gifts came well before cards! And as with the Christmas card, it wasn’t until the Victorian times that printed cards became widely available, although handmade cards remained popular, as they do today.
Why are flowers a popular Valentine’s gift?
Flowers and a box of chocolates have been the most traditional (and perhaps the most ‘obvious’!) selection of gifts since the 1900s.
In Victorian times, different flowers were given different meanings - there was a widely accepted ‘language of flowers’. Therefore, your choice of flowers could add an extra layer of romance, depending on the selection.
The red rose (still the most popular flower of choice each Valentine’s Day - with 250 million produced each year specially) means ‘deep love’....and was the favourite flower of Aphrodite, the Goddess of Love, according to Greek mythology.
How long have people been gifting chocolate for Valentine’s Day?
In the lead up to Valentine’s Day, nearly £300 million is spent on chocolate each year worldwide. However, boxes of chocolate have only been widely available for just over 150 years. Chocolate was a luxury item for a long time following its discovery - expensive and exclusive.
Chocolate beans were first imported to Spain from South America in 1528 and ‘enjoyed’ as a bitter hot drink. It wasn’t commercially available until over 200 years later when the first chocolate bar was introduced by the Fry Company in 1847.
The first box of chocolates was created by Richard Cadbury, (yes that Cadbury...from Cadbury’s). He even designed the first heart-shaped box of chocolates in the 1860s. They were most sought after, not only for the contents, but also the beautiful boxes were precious keepsakes. (...Now, that sounds familiar - gorgeous boxes that can be kept or reused...).
Chocolate’s association with Valentine’s Day is also linked to the belief it is a powerful aphrodisiac - the perfect gift for your lover! Whilst there is no scientific evidence to prove that chocolate (or any food for that matter) can biologically stimulate feelings of desire - the placebo effect is incredibly powerful. If you feel special, feel spoilt, feel surprised and then taste a delicious array of flavours, then there is no doubt you are going to get an incredible boost of happy hormones.
Why does Valentine’s Day remain so popular after all these years?
The rush of serotonin upon receiving a special and thoughtful gift is the whole reason Valentine’s remains a special day for many. The look on someone’s face when they receive a special gift...the feeling of satisfaction when you have chosen something meaningful...the reaction to a wonderful surprise...perhaps, even the joy (and nerves) of sending an anonymous present to someone you have secretly admired...and the anticipation of their response...It is the epitome of taking joy from gifting.
Be part of history this Valentine's Day
Choose something for your loved one this Valentine’s Day from our selection of handpicked hampers, laced with romantic meanings and packed with delicious, sensual treats to enjoy together. Check out our Valentine's Hampers selection..