MUNDANE MYSTERIES: Why We Give Chocolate On Valentine’s Day

Try going into any retail store right now & not seeing pink & red boxes of chocolate on display on almost every aisle. You couldn’t do it! Because chocolate’s become one of the standard Valentine’s Day gifts, alongside flowers & jewelry. But chocolate didn’t develop its romantic reputation overnight. It took centuries of Mayans, myths, and marketing to tie chocolate to Valentine’s Day.

The ancient Mayans were the first to bond love & chocolate. Around 500 BCE, centuries before the first Feast of St. Valentine, the Mayans were using cocoa beans to brew an early version of hot chocolate that was an important part of Mayan wedding rituals, where the bride & groom would each sip the warm beverage during the ceremony. That ritual presaged chocolate’s future status as a universal expression of love.

The Aztecs, however, did not see chocolate as a wholesome treat. Legend has it that emperor Montezuma II would binge on loads of cocoa beans to fuel his romantic endeavors. But, while chocolate does contain small amounts of tryptophan & phenylethylamine (two compounds associated with love & desire), scientists say there really aren’t enough of either chemical to actually make chocolate a powerful aphrodisiac.

Tales of chocolate’s amorous side-effects persisted nevertheless, and that may explain why candy-sellers embraced the sweet treats as Valentine’s Day became popular. Cadbury’s first heart-shaped box of chocolates, which debuted in 1861, was an instant success with its embellished packaging featuring cupids & flowers. And, once the box was empty, it could then be used to hold keepsakes like locks of hair & love letters.

Cadbury made the mistake, however, of not patenting their heart-shaped chocolate box. So, all the rest of the candy industry began producing their own versions. And, it wasn’t long after that chocolates became synonymous with this newly-commercialized holiday known as Valentine’s Day.

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