Valentine S Day Traditions

Ask someone the symbols of Valentine”s Day, and she”ll likely answer: roses, Valentine”s Day cards, chocolates, hearts and cupid. These well-known Valentine”s Day symbols can be seen all over the place in the days and weeks leading up to Valentine”s Day. Cards line the shelves of local stores, cupids fly on the walls of classrooms and bouquets of brightly colored roses fill vases in homes and offices.

While many people recognize these traditional Valentine”s Day items, few know the origins of them. Interestingly, many of these Valentine”s Day traditions can be traced back hundreds of years.

Valentine”s Day Traditions: Hearts

There are a number of theories on why people use the symbol of the heart to show love on Valentine”s Day and throughout the year. Some speculate that the symbol of the heart is meant to represent the heart-shaped fruit of the now-extinct Silphium plant.

The Silphium plant was not only a source of food but was also known to have medicinal properties. Some believe that the Silphium plant has become associated with love due to the fact that its leaves were used as a method of birth control. As sex and love often go hand in hand, some people think that the shape of the Silphium”s fruit, our modern depiction of the heart, came to be known as the symbol of love.

Often, Valentine”s Day hearts feature an arrow piercing them through their centers. While this represents the pain often associated with love, it also reflects the way in which love captures the heart. Additionally, the arrow through the heart illustrates energy and penetration, another link between the heart, love and sex.

The Origin of Cupid

Cupid is the Roman god of erotic love. In Greece, he is known as Eros, and he is often referred to by the Latin word for love, amor. While there are many tales that attempt to explain the origins of Cupid, the goddess of love, known to the Romans as Venus and the Greeks as Aphrodite, is most frequently referenced as his mother.

Like love itself, Cupid is thought to have had a multi-dimensional nature. Although myths depict him as a figure who spreads love, he also engages in acts of debauchery. Also, it is said that Cupid carries two sets of arrows: One set has gold heads for inspiring love. The other has tips of lead, meant to spawn hatred. Metaphorically, this illustrates the thin line between love and hate.

In the past, people depicted Cupid as a grown man. Today, we know him as a chubby infant who features golden curls.

Cupid can also be linked to roses, another Valentine”s Day tradition. Myth tells us that Cupid carried a jar of nectar to the gods. Whenever he spilled a drop on the ground, a rose grew.

Giving Roses on Valentine”s Day

Like Cupid, the tradition of giving roses on Valentine”s Day has mythological origins. The gods Bacchus and Venus associated the beauty and enchanting aroma of flowers with love. As red was considered to be the color of the heart, red roses became associated with love and passion.

Along with symbolizing the romantic love generally associated with Valentine”s Day, roses also represent familial, maternal love. The rose is also a religious symbol, reflective of the Virgin Mary. Therefore, this flower is thought to also highlight the pure and virtuous side of love.

Here”s a chart that highlights the meanings behind the various colors of roses:

Color Meaning
Red Love, Adoration, Passion
Dark Red Stunning Beauty
Light Pink Grace, Companionship, Respect
Dark Pink Appreciation
White Spirituality, Purity, Innocence, Marital Bliss
Yellow Friendship, Happiness

If you want to get your sweetheart a flower other than a rose on Valentine”s Day, opt for one of the following love-inspiring blossoms:

Flower Meaning
Carnations Divine Love
Daisies Loyalty, Purity
Daffodils Commitment
Gardenias Beauty
Gladiolas Sincerity
Lavender Devotion
Lilies Sweetness, Purity
Orchids Beauty, Rare/Exotic Love
Sunflowers Adoration
Tulips True Love

Origins of Valentine”s Day Cards

There is little history and a lot of legend surrounding the origins of Valentine”s Day cards. In the medieval era, lovers often exchanged love notes, which many believe can be linked to today”s Valentine”s Day cards. Today, you can find some medieval love notes at the British Library.

Another legend links the tradition of Valentine”s Day cards to St. Valentine, a priest who secretly married couples after Emperor Claudius II banned marriage. The night before Feb. 14, 270 A.D., the day of his execution, St. Valentine sent a love note to the jailer”s daughter and signed it, “from your Valentine.” Whether this tale is fact or fiction, the story drove the popular phrase from reference to idiom.

Esther Howland produced and sold the first mass-produced Valentine”s Day cards in the United States during the 19th century. Today, the Greeting Card Association gives a prize named after her to Greeting Card Visionaries.

Valentine”s Day Traditions: Valentine”s Day Chocolates

Some historians believe that chocolate, derived from the cocoa bean, was grown domestically as early as 1500 B.C. by the Olmec Indians in South America.

For most of history, chocolate was a treat reserved for the wealthy and was most often consumed in liquid form. While it became especially popular as a medicine and as an aphrodisiac, today we know that the happy feelings many people experience when they eat chocolate is due to a chemical called phenylethylamine.

In 1674, chocolate was first consumed as a solid in rolls and cakes. However, the chocolate bar was not invented until 1847. In 1861,Richard Cadbury created the first heart-shaped chocolate box for Valentine”s Day. Within seven years, the Cadbury family was mass-marketing the product.


Embassy of the United States of America (n.d.). Celebrate! Holidays in the U.S.A.: St. Valentine”s Day. Retrieved October 9, 2007, from the Web site:


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