Why Valentines Day is celebrated

By: Madhulika Dash

To understand the story of heart shaped candies and valentine, we need to know how Valentine's Day - the festival we know today - came to fore.

Valentine's Day (which was February 13, 14 and 15) was initially celebrated as Pagan festival called Lupercalia.  A day when, according to an article National Geographic, young men would strip naked and use goat - or dog-skin whips to spank the backsides of young women in order to "improve their fertility; an early IVF, if you will."

This seemingly kinky ritual would often end with loads of wine and sweet breads (then called cakes) and merry making.  Of course by the 3rd century, Valentine's Day (or week) was celebrated to bring some cheer to the rather gloomy (read: grey) days of the month, thanks to Pope Gelasius, who declared February 14th as St. Valentine's Day in 498 AD.  
The rich of the society would often celebrate it as a pre-Halloween prep fest, where kids were asked to go around asking for sweet kisses, while grown ups enjoyed small garden parties with little cupcakes, chocolates (it was still expensive for the poor) and drinks (not just tea).

Of course the Day itself is based on two valentines: one a priest, who defied Emperor Claudius II decree of outlawing marriage for young men and got them wedded secretly and was hanged on discovery, another, a prisoner, who fell in love with the warden's daughter and wrote love letters to her signed "To My Valentine" and was executed when discovered.

However, it wasn't until William Shakespeare mentioned it in Ophelia's lament in Hamlet: "To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,/All in the morning betime,/And I a maid at your window,/To be your Valentine" that St Valentine's Day entered the popular consciousness of the masses and became the Valentine's Day today, which even Chaucer in his "The Parliament of Fowls," explains as "birds choose their mates on St. Valentine's Day."

Curiously, the love treats then didn't have the richness of chocolate or even the quintessential red or pink colour, but little sweet, hard boiled candies that was given in a cloth bag that would have a red rose as a symbol of love. That many believe was the first association of the red with Valentines.

It is said that one of the lavish Valentine's party in 1785 was given by Marie Antoinette in Versailles. The table especially dressed by the "Chocolate Maker to the Queen" had such recipes as chocolate mixed with orchid bulb for strength, chocolate with orange blossom to calm the nerves, or chocolate with sweet almond milk to aid the digestion along with an array of cakes (none howsoever were red in colour).

That tea party many believe set the tone for the Valentine's Day, which over the years saw the addition of cup cakes, heart shape cakes, chocolates, cranberry pudding and Rose (the first wine made by men) among others.

Here is the history behind some of the Valentines Day Sweet treats