Every February 14, lovers from around the world exchange chocolates, flowers and lavish gifts to celebrate the most romantic day of the year: Valentine’s Day. But while this popular holiday is now known as a day full of sweet Hallmark cards and romantic dinner ideas for two, did you know there’s actually a fascinating — and pretty dark — history of Valentine’s Day that dates all the way back to ancient Rome?
If you’re wondering how this holiday — and its candy-filled traditions — came about, these fascinating Valentine’s Day facts offer a deeper look into the age-old celebration, including interesting details on conversation hearts, heart-shaped chocolate boxes and even the first Valentine message ever sent. Whether you’re spending this February 14 with your sweetheart or you’re using it as an excuse to eat tons of Valentine’s Day chocolates, read on to learn facts that may surprise you.
1. Not until the 1840s did we get the first mass-produced valentines.
People started exchanging cards and handwritten letters to both lovers and friends during the 17th century, but it was in the 1840s that the first Valentine’s Day cards were mass-produced in the U.S., sold by Esther A. Howland. Known as the “Mother of the American Valentine,” Howland is credited with commercializing Valentine’s Day cards in America, and she is remembered for her elaborate, crafty cards made with lace and ribbons.
2. The tradition of giving Valentine’s Day flowers dates back to the 17th century.
Giving red roses may be an obvious romantic gesture today, but it wasn’t until the late 17th century that giving flowers became a popular custom. In fact, the practice can be traced back to when King Charles II of Sweden learned the “language of flowers” — which pairs different flowers with specific meanings — on a trip to Persia, and subsequently introduced the tradition to Europe. The act of giving flowers then became a popular trend during the Victorian Era — including on Valentine’s Day — with red roses symbolizing deep love.
3. Today, Americans spend a lot on love.
According to the National Retail Foundation, Americans spent over $20 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts in 2019, and were expected to spend a record-breaking $27.4 billion for 2020 — including $2.4 billion on candy alone! People also expected to spend an average of approximately $196 for Valentine’s Day last year, with men spending around $291 —compared to women spending $106. Time to step it up, ladies!
4. Americans send 145 million Valentine’s Day cards each year.
According to Hallmark, a whopping 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged every February 14 (and that’s not even including all those kids’ valentines exchanged in classrooms!). This makes Valentine’s Day the second biggest holiday for exchanging greeting cards, after Christmas. And how sweet: Teachers receive the most Valentine’s Day cards annually, followed by children, mothers and wives. Needless to say, we’ve come a long way from 1913, which was when Hallmark Cards produced their first Valentine’s card.
5. And they also spend millions of dollars on gifts for their pets.
Hey, furry friends need love, too! In fact, around 27.6 million American households gave Valentine’s Day presents to their pet dogs last year, and more than 17.1 million picked up gifts for their cats. All in all, American households spent an estimated $751.3 million on gifts for their pets on Valentine’s Day.