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The modern-day expectation of celebrating Valentine’s Day brings a mix of emotions for most everyone in mid-February. New romances feel the pressure to impress, long-term couples try to top last year’s celebrations and singles everywhere reject the holiday entirely or exchange it for an evening of quality time with family or friends. Either way, the greeting card, romantic dinner, and “box of chocolates and a dozen roses” industry booms.
Legends around the storied beginnings of Valentine’s Day are numerous and all but unprovable. Some include a Catholic priest named Saint Valentine who married young lovers in the 3rd century to thwart the spread of Roman Paganism (as Roman soldiers were not allowed to marry). Others reference a St. Valentine who is claimed to have written the very first Valentine after falling in love with his jailer’s daughter. Right before his execution, he sent her a love note signed, “From, your Valentine” an expression that is very much still in use today.
We do know, however, that the first mention of Valentine’s Day as a romantic day, dates back to the 14th-century poet, Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parliament of Fowls. In the poem, birds gather each Spring on “Seynt Valentyne’s Day” to select their mates. But how did we get from Old English to Russel Stover? When Chaucer christened the day for lovers, sugar was rare and there were no heart-shaped boxes in the Middle Ages.
Enter the Victorians! Hundreds of years later, despite their prudish ways, courting was of great social importance and all the rage. Gifts and flowery notes are about as wild as our buttoned-up ancestors would dare go, but each handmade, ornamental, creation depicted much of the iconography we associate with love today like flowers, hearts and cupid. Inside, a proclamation of the recipient’s beauty or of the sender’s undying love.
In the mid-1800s in England, Richard Cadbury had perfected his chocolate-making technique so as to extract pure cocoa butter from whole beans, producing a more palatable drinking chocolate than most Britons had ever tasted. The result was an excess of cocoa butter Cadbury used to create a new “eating chocolate”. He designed and sold these treats in beautifully decorated boxes that were so ornate they were kept long after all the chocolate was eaten. Some still exist today as family heirlooms and are incredibly rare.
No matter how we got here, or with whom you celebrate, there is a good chance you might run into a sugary confection on Valentine’s Day. Sugary treats are no friend to teeth, but eating dark chocolate can have many heart-healthy benefits. The darker the better in fact, as there is far less sugar in 70%-85% dark chocolate than Cadbury’s milk chocolate. And believe it or not, when eaten in moderation, dark chocolate can even lower your risk for heart disease and improve your brain function!
So, maybe this year for Valentine’s Day ask your partner for a box of dark chocolates…or just buy them for yourself! Just make sure to eat in moderation and remember to brush your teeth afterward. Happy Valentine’s Day!