Valentine's Day and chocolate; the two are almost inseparable. But why? What does chocolate have to do with a holiday that takes it name from three St Valentines who all suffered horrible martyrs deaths? Why, for that matter, is the holiday linked so closely with love?
There are many varying ideas about the origin of Valentine's Day, and as with other festivals it is probably a derived from aspects of all of them. In ancient Rome, the goddess Juno was honoured on the day of February 14th. On this day and during the following festival of Lupercallia, boys and girls were permitted to mix. Their names would be placed on pieces of paper and the boys would select a girl who would be their partner during the festivities. After being paired, the couples would often fall in love and eventually marry each other; hence one of the reasons why this day is linked with love and couples.
Another idea comes from the legend of St Valentine, who upon the rejection by his mistress was so distressed that he cut out his own heart as a token of his undying love. The act of giving tokens of love on this day filtered through the years until it became embedded in tradition; they are still given today, although none quite as severe. In today's society a love-heart shaped box filled with chocolates will suffice.
It is not clear why chocolate is linked so closely with Valentine's Day, although why it is closely linked with love might be easier to understand. The Aztecs, who are widely thought to have invented chocolate, thought it to have such strong aphrodisiac qualities that it was briefly banned. It is no wonder then that when it was introduced in Europe this idea of stimulating love was continued.
There is no hard evidence that chocolate does act as an aphrodisiac, however, it is definitely a mood lifting substance. It contains both Phenyl-ethylamine and Serotonin which found naturally in the brain. They are released in the blood stream when feelings of love, passion, lust and happiness are experienced, strongly linking them, and consequently chocolate which also releases them, to the idea of love.
Chocolate therefore presents itself as the ideal gift on Valentine's Day, it is easy to access after the price of coco beans dropped in the 1800's and made it available to most of the population - and relatively cheap to buy. With such a wide market built up around the idea of giving chocolate on valentines day it almost seems silly not to. With the options of chocolate roses, beautiful gift boxes, chocolate tablets with messages inscribed in writing, it has become an expectation to receive some form of chocolate on February 14th, explaining why nearly 75% of chocolate is bought by men leading up to this holiday of love.
Furthermore, as such an effective mood lifting agent, with effects similar to those of Prozac, chocolate can also be helpful for those of us who are the unfortunate singles of Valentine's Day. For us this holiday of love, buried deep within the never ending desolate months of winter seems designed purely to spite us. Can we really be blamed therefore to indulge ourselves with heaps and heaps of chocolate?