The Evolution of Chocolate and Valentine's Day

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Chocolate, flowers, poetry. Fertility rites, animal sacrifices, coupling via lottery....wait, what? Before Pope Gelasius 1 in the 5th century rebranded this Roman holiday as a Christian saint’s day, it was called Lupercalia and was celebrated, well, differently than we celebrate it today. The holiday was very gradually romanticized, starting with a mention by Chaucer in his 1382 poem, "Parlement of Foules." (“Every bird cometh to choose his mate” on “seynt Voantynes day.”) Valentine cards began being exchanged in the 16th century, and the first “cheat sheet” of sentiments for inarticulate lovers to borrow from was published in 1669.

Chocolate has been loved and valued since the Mayans began making it almost 4,000 years ago. It did not have a place early in the history of Valentine’s Day, however, for at least two reasons. One is that the European and New World dwellers who celebrated the day thought of chocolate as a medicine and only let themselves consume it as such. (Marie Antoinette brought her own chocolate maker with her to Versailles who kept her supplied with chocolate to help her with her strength, digestion, and nerves.) The other limiting reason was the price not only of cacao, but also of sugar. However, it was being used as an aphrodisiac by some in the 18th century, including Madame du Barry, a prostitute who became the last mistress of King Louis XV.

Chocolate became an important part of Valentine’s day when Richard Cadbury had a stroke of genius and began selling chocolate bonbons in heart-shaped boxes in 1861. Russell Stover followed suit in the U.S. with his “Secret Lace Heart” satin and black lace box, and the eponymous company (which perhaps should be named after Russell’s wife Clara Stover, since she was the one who actually made the chocolate) is still the best-selling chocolate in the U.S.

Russell Cadbury and Stover may have been the first to draw a straight line from romance and sex to chocolate, but they were far from the last. Since the beginning of advertisements in print and digital media, there have been  countless sensual tableaus of people enjoying chocolate, commercials that depict naked men making chocolate, and even declarations that “chocolate can’t get you pregnant!” Nowadays, when you walk into your local grocery store (or in pandemic times, when you log onto the grocery store website) you’ll know that Valentine’s Day is coming up due to the sheer volume of love-themed chocolate products. “Eat Out, Eat Well” by Hope S. Warshaw found that consumers buy 36 million heart shaped boxes of chocolate for Valentine’s Day every year––betcha Russell Stover wasn’t expecting that way back in 1907. The National Confectioners Association conducted a study in 2019 and found that a full 80% of Americans planned to enjoy chocolate and other candies with loved ones on Valentine’s Day.

In all the hype and pressure of Valentine’s Day, sometimes we can forget that it’s largely a made-up holiday, and it can be whatever we want it to be. After all, while it can be wonderful to have a romantic partner, the most important (and longest-lasting) relationship we have is with ourselves. And chocolate is a beautiful gift to yourself or someone you love any day of the year, romantic partner or not. Tangle sees chocolate as something that can make every day better, and doesn’t need to feel overindulgent. Whether you’re buying chocolate for yourself or your loved ones, we have boxes in a variety of sizes, perfect for special occasions, or for making daily life more special.

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