How did chocolates become a Valentine’s Day tradition?

It has just been about two weeks since Valentine’s Day, and we might still have a hangover from then. I often wonder how it has become this huge marketing gimmick globally, with this whole schedule of specific days leading up to the final day, and the pressure of expectations for doing something cute and different (yet not so different) each year, and above all, the bumper sales!

But if there is one thing that I have always wondered, it would be, how did chocolates come to be associated with the Valentine’s Day. Is it because of the known aphrodisiac properties of chocolate or is it another marketing campaign from some brand that needed to boost up sales between the supposed lull that happens in the sales figures in the time between Christmas and Easter? Got me thinking, and digging, I had to find out. I do know I am about two weeks late talking about this, but well, there is no time to learn and discover new things, is there?

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Before I tell you that, maybe I should tell you just a little bit about Valentine’s Day. How did that begin, after all!

When did Valentine’s Day begun being celebrated?

The day is named after two Roman saints, coincidentally, both were called St. Valentine and both had absolutely no connection to romantic love. A popular tale about a certain ‘St. Valentine’ who used to perform illegal marriages in Europe has no historical backing. The writings of Geoffrey Chaucer see the very first mentions of St. Valentine’s Day being celebrated as a romantic holiday. It was in the medieval period that the now familiar iconography of knights giving roses to their maidens and celebrate their beauty with songs. But this was a time when sugar was still a very precious commodity so exchanging candies hadn’t yet picked up, for sure.

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When did chocolates begun being associated with Valentine’s Day?

It is believed that by the 1840s, almost the entire English-speaking world had embraced the tradition of the Valentine’s Day. The Victorians simply adored the notion of courtly love and would shower each other with grand gestures, elaborate gifts, and cards. It was around this time that Richard Cadbury, the scion of a British chocolate manufacturing family came along. It was also around this time that Cadbury had modified its chocolate-making technique with which it was able to extract pure cocoa butter from the whole beans, thereby producing a lot more palatable drinking chocolate than what the British had ever tasted before. With this, Cadbury’s was left with a lot of excess of cocoa butter, which they began using to make what they called ‘eating chocolate’. (Pretty cool, I would say, ‘drinking chocolate’ to drink and ‘eating chocolate’ to eat, could it get any clearer than that???).

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Now, Richard Cadbury (as it often happens) smelled an incredible marketing opportunity in the midst of this. So, he designed some unique special boxes, decorated them, and began selling them around Valentine’s Day. Cliched as it sounds, the boxes were heart-shaped, with imagery of chubby cupids and roses on it. Richard marketed these boxes as serving dual purposes – chocolates to enjoy with your special someone, and once you’re done with chocolates in the box, the box itself is so pretty that you can use it to store mementos of your loved one – locks of hair, love letters, and the usual stuff. (I have never understood why would lovers share locks of hair, that’s really gross and not romantic at all, it takes a lot of effort to grow & maintain hair, and hair fall is for real, but who am I to judge, right!)

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This continued until the onset of World War II when sugar began being rationed and became a very dear commodity. Now, these Victorian-era Cadbury chocolate boxes are prized possessions among collectors. Some of them are precious family heirlooms. And that design still continues to inspire Valentine’s Day gift boxes.

Well, so I was kinda right, wasn’t I? Giving chocolates on Valentine’s Day is one of the longest running marketing gimmicks that the world has fallen for and keep living on with it. And we have Cadbury’s to thank for it. Something to think about the next time you buy chocolates to gift them to your loved one (or like me, to yourself) on Valentine’s Day, right? Definitely something to think about when you see the cutesy Cadbury Silk advertisement around Valentine’s Day, right?

Have any interesting Valentine’s Day chocolate stories to share? Drop me a line in the comments or find me on Instagram – @banjaranfoodie. You’ll find my feed in the footer below as well.

Penny for your thoughts!