How Valentine's Day Got So Chocolaty
Where, exactly, did this Valentine's Day come from? More importantly: why does it seem so impossible to celebrate it without chocolate?
Valentine's Day was first named a holiday by Pope Gelasius I in the fifth century, partially as a Catholic alternative to a raucous pagan fertility festival called "Lupercalia," which reportedly involved nudity, drunkenness, and even sacrificing animals and whipping women with their hides. Romantic, right?
This new holiday got its name from the St. Valentine, who was executed for refusing to stop spreading his Christian beliefs despite Emperor Claudius II's orders.
Valentine's association with romantic love comes from two legends, though it is unclear how and when these dubious tales originated. In one, Valentine performed Christian weddings when the emperor had forbidden them, thus sparing the new husbands from being drafted into the military service.
In another, Valentine was visited by his jailer's daughter while awaiting execution, and then signed a final letter to her "from your Valentine."
Yet the modern idea of Valentine's Day as a romantic holiday actually seems to have originated from a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer called "Parlement of Foules," which referred to St. Valentine's Day as a special day for lovers and a day on which birds would choose their mates for the season.
Chocolate only got involved in the 19th century, thanks mostly to the candy company Cadbury. At the time, Cadbury primarily sold "drinking chocolate," which was then a popular alternative to the much-maligned alcohol.
However, this drinking chocolate was made mostly with cocoa powder, which left Cadbury little to do with the fatty cocoa butter that was a byproduct of its production—except make more of the less popular "eating chocolate."
That's right: chocolate as we know it was basically an afterthought.
To take advantage of the growing frenzy around Valentine's Day as an opportunity to market this new "eating chocolate," Cadbury began to sell it in elaborate heart-shaped boxes specifically decorated for the occasion.
These became a huge hit, so other companies like Hershey's and Russel Stover's started to follow Cadbury's lead with their own Valentine's Day offerings. Now, there's scarcely a major candy brand to speak of that doesn't peddle some version of Valentine's-themed chocolate.However, if you happen to be dieting this Valentine's day, there's no reason you need to let this arbitrary association ruin your healthy plans! While chocolate is no health food, cocoa itself is actually pretty good for you!Not only is it quite low in calories and fat, especially if you choose the defatted Wondercocoa version, but it's choc-full of antioxidants. Cocoa's stimulant and mood-boosting qualities means it can also serve as an aphrodisiac!Even those currently on the 123Diet (which prohibits cocoa itself) can still get their chocolate-y fix from chocolate-flavored liquid stevia or the chocolate version of our new vegan protein powder.Finally, if you do choose to celebrate Valentine's Day the "old-fashioned" way but don't want to ruin your diet completely, a lot of the insights from our dieter's guide to Halloween candy are probably applicable to this sickeningly sweet holiday as well!