How Valentine's Day Became All About Candy
Everyone loves candy, and we're no different. So this week, Cracked is giving in to our sweet tooth and talking about all things candy.
Valentine's Day, or as most Westerners call it, "the day after February 13th," has a long, storied history of unrealistic expectations and hurt feelings. It's the day we are supposed to care about our significant others more than any other day, or at least that's what commercials and restaurants tell us. Chocolates, flowers, and pre-populated Hallmark cards either very much look forward to this day or dread it despondently.
But at what point did this holiday and candy decide to join forces? It's estimated that each year, lovers will spend $1.8 billion dollars on candy in the U.S. alone. So what made people associate the passionate feeling of love with the sticky sweet solidified form of sugar? Did someone receive a very early version of a Snickers bar on February 14th many years ago, and it just stuck? Was it decided that love simply wasn't enough and that nougat needed to be a part of the equation? Whatever the reason, they're intrinsically tied together now, and maybe we can discover why ...
Valentine's Day is thought to have become a proper tradition in the year 496 when the Feast of Saint Valentine was held for the eponymous saint of Rome. Still, it wasn't until the 1300s or so when it became associated with lovey-dovey stuff. We can trace that back to Geoffrey Chaucer of The Canterbury Tales. In a poem of his, he describes love as birds choosing their mates on "seynt Voantynes day," because spelling wasn't as important in those days as escaping the plague was.
Another step in the evolution of the holiday may come from the old Roman festival called Lupercalia, which was a celebration of fertility that, for some reason, also had priests sacrificing dogs and goats. Once the animals were cooked and feasted upon, these priests would then take the leftovers and run to the nearby village and strike women with the meat, in hopes this would keep them super fertile. Yup, you cannot make up anything dumber than what men did a long time ago.
18th-century England, in all of its whimsy, began the practice of offering flowers and confections in the hope of one day seeing the other's genitalia. Victoria was queen then, and those dramatic Victorians loved an over-the-top gesture as much as anyone in history. Sweet treats were just the thing to seal the deal. That was when the price of sugar wasn't so exorbitantly high, and those things could be offered as a mating gift, even if rejection was a possibility. Ah, the human libido and the things it will withstand! This was also when Valentine's cards became a popular way to write things instead of actually saying them to someone's face. They were adorned with ribbons and lace, and a whole side industry was created.
Chocolate itself has long been adored and treated as a love symbol. Mayans and Aztecs would roast the cacao beans to make luxurious drinks and sell the beans themselves for other goods, as the crop was basically as profitable as gold back then.
England and France developed their own chocolate obsessions in the 1600s. It was Richard Cadbury, he of the famous chocolate egg with the weirdly-realistic sweet yolk in the center, who had a hand in popularizing the act of giving sweets to your sweetie. New manufacturing techniques at the chocolate company made it so they could pump out all sorts of new kinds of treats to include in Valentine's gestures. In 1861, Cadbury rolled out their "fancy boxes," assortments of chocolate candies in heart-shaped containers that were designed specifically for the holiday.
As the 1900s approached, other candy makers decided to creep into Valentine's Day territory. American chocolatier Milton Hershey developed his signature Hershey's Kisses (so named because of the sound they made when they were plopped into molds in the factory) in 1907. Hershey advertised them as a "most nourishing food," but he wasn't fooling anyone. They were the perfect size and shape to woo almost anyone after a gay old night of foxtrotting across the dance floor.
Russell Stover, another popular chocolate company, used this time of chocolust to put their own brand out there. Clara Stover started the outfit in 1923 and began selling her chocolate candies to department stores all over the Midwest and building more factories to handle the demand. Her husband Russell, realizing the insane craze for boxed chocolates, eventually made the shrewd move to buy out competitor Whitman's (you may remember their samplers), and concentrate the company's efforts on the big-box stores like Target and Walmart, which is most likely where you head each Valentine's Day to get chocolates, flowers, and a card, all in one fell swoop.
A World Of Candy
Once chocolate began to rule the landscape of Valentine's offerings, other candies sought to create their own share of the market. You might recall those little bowls of chalky heart candies from your grandparents house. They had little messages printed on them, like "Be Mine," or "Kiss Me," or "Hey, Where Are You Running." They're called Conversation Hearts or Sweethearts, and they were created first as a lozenge by a pharmacist; then, in 1866, they started printing out those creepy little texts on them. And who hasn't fallen in love when you've ingested a glorified cough drop that told you to?
M&M's are probably one of the most popular candies in the world but haven't always fared well on the most loving of days. That is, until 2017 when they took a page out of Sweetheart's book and started producing Cupid's Message M&M's. That brought them a little bit more market share on the holiday, but at least in the United States, boxed chocolates, Hershey's Kisses, and Sweethearts rule the landscape.
Looking through the top-selling candy for each state on Valentine's Day in America seems to say a lot about the country, too. Alabama likes candy necklaces, for instance, while the fancypants in Iowa and Kansas like to add a little stank to their Valentine's baskets in the form of Ghirardelli gift boxes. Michigan likes Cupid Corn, whatever the heck that nasty mess is. Ohio has decided to get all kinds of sassy and added Wild Berry Skittles into their top 3 list. And Alaska? Poor, poor Alaska. We need to talk about Alaska. They really like cinnamon bears for their Valentines, in an apparent way to have something, anything that resembles warmth.
Not all countries celebrate the holiday like America, though, or even celebrate it on the same day. Argentina has theirs in July and a whole "week of sweetness." South Korea decided that loving someone more on one day of the year simply won't do, and celebrate it on the 14th of every month. Sad single folks get a day in April to eat black noodles and be lonely, so that's nice too. In Japan, February 14th is apparently Opposite Day, and women actually buy men candy and cards to celebrate their love in a monetary way.
In the end, it all boils down, kind of like candy itself, to wanting to be sweet to someone you care about in more than just a metaphorical way. Giving someone a gift is the most personal way to give a piece of yourself, even if it cost you eight bucks at a Rite-Aid. But here's a little hint to the young folks in the audience: don't wait until the day you have to love someone to show them.
Top image: Chrys Omori