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If you’re like many people gearing up to celebrate Valentine’s Day, you already know that hearts, flowers and chocolate are pretty central to the holiday – but do you know how Cupid became a chubby baby (it wasn’t from a 3D Ultrasound) or that the first valentine was sent from prison? Check out these 15 surprising facts about Valentine’s Day that most people don’t know so you can get the scoop and impress your date.

15 Surprising Facts About Valentine’s Day Most People Don’t Know

Valentine’s Day is much more than a “Hallmark Holiday.” It has a pretty extensive history, as the following 15 facts explain. 

Valentine’s Day Fact #1: Valentine’s Day Was Declared in the late 400s

Pope Gelasius declared February 14th to be St. Valentine’s Day at the end of the fifth century, though it was quite some time until the day became associated with love. Many historians believe it was designed by the Catholic Church to replace the old pagan festival of Lupercalia.

Valentine’s Day Fact #2: The First Record of Romance for Valentine’s Day Was in a Poem Written in 1375

Geoffrey Chaucer wrote “Parliament of Foules” in 1375, and to it is the first known romantic link to Valentine’s day. “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s Day/When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”

Valentine’s Day Fact #3: The Oldest Known Valentine Still in Existence Was Written in 1415

Charles, Duke of Orleans, wrote his wife a valentine while imprisoned in the Tower of London. Written while the duke was just 21 years old (you can read it here), he never got the chance to reunite with her; he was imprisoned for 25 years, and she died before he was released.

Valentine’s Day Fact #4: Cupid Wasn’t Always a Fat Baby

Though today’s version of Cupid is a chubby, diapered baby armed with a bow and arrow, the mythological Roman god Cupid was much more mature. Apparently, the Roman Cupid was “borrowed” from Greek mythology and based on Eros, the strikingly handsome (complete with chiseled abs) god of love, Eros.

Valentine’s Day Fact #5: Valentine’s Day is Only Celebrated in a Handful of Countries

Only the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, Australia and France customarily celebrate Valentine’s Day, though some people in other countries exchange romantic gifts and chocolates.

Related: 9 wild (and wonderful) facts about the Winter Solstice

Valentine’s Day Fact #6: Mass-Produced Valentines Were Sold in the 1840s

Esther A. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” began mass-producing the very first valentines in the U.S. These creations were made with colorful ribbons and lace. You can see a few of them here.

Valentine’s Day Fact #7: Vinegar Valentines Ranged from Sassy to Spiteful

In the Victorian era, sometimes people sent “vinegar valentines.” These cards were certainly not romantic – and some were downright mean. You can see a small selection of them here.

Valentine’s Day Fact #8: People Started Giving Roses for Valentine’s Day in the 1600s

Red roses weren’t associated with Valentine’s Day until the late 1600s, when King Charles II of Sweden began learning the “language of flowers” on a trip to Persia. He introduced what he learned to Europe, and because roses represented love, giving them on the holiday became a popular trend.

Valentine’s Day Fact #9: Heart-Shaped Boxes of Chocolate Came Out in 1861

Richard Cadbury – of Cadbury Egg fame – introduced fancy, heart-shaped boxes for chocolates in 1861 to increase sales. Today, an average of 58 million pounds of chocolates change hands on the holiday.

Valentine’s Day Fact #10: Valentine’s Day is Expensive

If you’ve ever seen the huge collection of Valentine’s Day gifts at your favorite stores, you know that it’s expensive – and moreso in the United States than anywhere else. Americans spent about $27 billion on Valentine’s Day gifts in 2020, and individual people are expected to spend an average of about $200 for the holiday.

Valentine’s Day Fact #11: More Than 145 Million Valentine’s Day Cards Are Sold Each Year

Hallmark says that about 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year – and that’s not counting kids’ valentines, which come in boxes. 

Valentine’s Day Fact #12: Conversation Hearts Started Out As Medical Lozenges

Lozenges were invented by Oliver Chase, a pharmacist in Boston who wanted to make medicine easier to take. But soon after inventing lozenges, Chase decided to use his machine for candy instead – and then he founded the New England Confectionery Company (known as Necco). Oliver’s brother, Daniel, decided to print sayings and phrases on them in 1866, and the rest is history. Modern-day candy hearts have a shelf life of five years – just in case you were wondering. 

Valentine’s Day Fact #13: About 6 Million Couples Get Engaged on Valentine’s Day Each Year

Valentine’s Day is a popular day for engagement. In fact, The Marriage Proposal Survey says that about 40 percent of people say that’s the best day of the year to propose.

Valentine’s Day Fact #14: Singles Can Celebrate International Quirkyalone Day

International Quirkyalone Day is the singles’ alternative to Valentine’s Day, and it’s celebrated on February 14th. In fact, it’s been around (though slow to gain traction) since 2003. 

Valentine’s Day Fact #15: You Can Write a Letter to Juliet Capulet for Valentine’s Day

You can write a letter to Juliet Capulet and enter it in the Premio Internazionale Cara Giulietta, an awards ceremony that honors the best love letters in Verona. 

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