When and where did sending cards, flowers and candy to loved ones on Valentines Day start? It’s obvious that this holiday is encouraged by retailers, who stand to make a lot of money from selling people things they wouldn’t otherwise buy. There’s even a good reason for giving chocolates for Valentines Day?they’re a substitute for sex.

The idea of a day set aside to honor loved ones goes way back…to the ancient Chinese, the Romans and the Egyptians. All these cultures exchanged messages of love during New Year’s celebrations. Declaring your love was a major part of the culture of the Roman Empire, but this was done in March, not February. But it started out as a day to honor the dead.

Classics scholar Judith Hallett says, “In ancient Rome, February 14 was the second day of the Parentalia, an annual festival for honoring the dead. During this festival, mourners would visit the tombs of their lost family members, and place offerings such as flowers, grain, and wine on the graves of their deceased parents. March 1 was sacred to Juno, the goddess of marriage. On that day husbands would pray for the health of their wives and give them presents, and wives would dress up.” Love poems were popular in ancient Rome as well.

The association of Valentine’s Day and romantic love probably began in France and England during the late Middle Ages. In the UK, Valentine’s Day became popular around the 17th century. By the 18th century it was common for friends and loved ones to exchange gifts or handwritten notes as tokens of affection.

Americans probably began exchanging hand made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America. According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated one billion valentines are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, behind Christmas.

The holiday we know as Valentine’s Day was named after Saint Valentine, who may have lived in the late third century. But most historians think that Saint Valentine, like Ireland’s Saint Patrick, never really existed.

Here’s why chocolate is a good substitute for sex: When women ovulate, their serotonin levels go down. Sperm is a natural antidepressant, so fertile women desire sex during the time of the month when they’re most likely to become pregnant. Chocolate also raises serotonin levels, so it’s a natural substitute for sex.

Art credit: http://www.freeimages.co.uk

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