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Why Chocolate? And Other Valentine's Day Questions

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history of valentines day chocolate flowers gifts
The history of Valentine's Day, in a nutshell.
Chocolate, flowers, and cards: Oh my! Why we give these gifts on Valentine's Day.

We stuff ourselves during Thanksgiving, wear ugly sweaters come Christmastime, and ring in the New Year with a champagne toast. That's just how it's done. Similarly, ever since we were in pre-kindergarten, cards, flowers, chocolate and—depending on your luck—that One Special Person have marked Valentine's Day. While the days of those little cardboard Disney-princess Valentine's Day cards may be over (remember Martin's "I choo-choo-choose you" for Lisa on The Simpsons?), there are still traditions we practice. But do you know why Valentine's Day is the way it is? Like 'em or loathe 'em, here we explain the holiday's most popular traditions. Valentine's Day Traditions Around the World

1. Chocolate. We all know chocolate is an aphrodisiac. It contains an endorphin called phenylethylamine, levels of which in the brain have been linked to falling in love. Chocolate has been used as a gift since the days of the Aztecs, who believed it to be a source of spiritual wisdom, energy and higher sexual prowess. It was used as a nuptial aid and served at wedding ceremonies. How could the Aztecs be wrong? They invented the stuff, after all, along with popcorn and universal education. Be Good To Your Heart With… Chocolate

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2. Roses. February 14 is like Black Friday for florists, accounting for 32 percent of annual sales. But why are flowers associated with love? Apparently, in the early 1700s, Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art known as the "language of flowers" to Europe. Throughout the 18th century, ladies loved their floral dictionaries, which listed the symbolic meanings of different flowers. The red rose was believed to be the favored flower of Venus, the Roman Goddess of Love, and has come to represent romantic love. And so, giving red roses on Valentine's Day became the thing to do. Why Do Flowers Make Us Swoon?

3. Cards. Valentine's Day originated from pagan customs involving animal sacrifice and fertility rituals. When Christianity arrived, Catholic Church officials tried to abolish the wild-and-crazy pagan feasts by creating their own holiday around the same date and choosing St. Valentine, a saint remembered for his devotion to love. The Pope kept one pagan ritual, however: The one where young, unmarried men chose the names of young, unmarried women out of a box at random to be matched romantically. Being the church, though, they substituted saints' names for names of unmarried girls. Instead of mating, the young folks had to emulate the saint whose name they drew. As you can imagine, virile Roman males weren't too crazy about this, so they established their own custom of  sending written greetings of affection, likely the first Valentine's Day cards, to the young ladies of their fancy. Written Valentines began to appear en masse after 1400 (around the time of the invention of the printing press). I Hate Valentine's Day

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