Special Report

What Valentine’s Day Looked Like Hundreds of Years Ago

John Harrington

Some things have changed about Valentine’s Day — online cards, makeover segments on morning TV shows, romantic getaways, as well as  cards for dogs, co-workers, relatives, friends, and same-sex couples. 

But some things have not. We still go out to eat for a romantic dinner, and give flowers, gifts, and candy. And we do so more than ever. This year, romance is expected to bloom to the tune of $27.4 billion, up from $20.7 billion, or 32%, from a year ago, according to the National Retail Federation. The NRF said consumers plan to spend an average of $196.31, an increase of 21% from $161.96 a year ago. 

As Valentine’s Day approaches, 24/7 Tempo is taking the opportunity to see what Valentine’s Day looked like in the past by reviewing articles from media sources such as Time, resource sites such as smithsonianmag.com, as well as stories published on the website of greeting card company Hallmark

Click here to see what Valentine’s Day looked like in the past

The origins of Valentine’s Day go back to ancient Rome when Romans celebrated the spring festival of Lupercalia on Feb. 15. The day later became associated with martyred Christians who were named Valentine. 

The oldest Valentine is attributed to the Duke of Orleans, who in 1415 wrote a poem to his wife while he was held prisoner in London after the French defeat at the Battle of Agincourt. 

English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, whose works “Parlement of Foules” and “The Complaint of Mars” helped foster our notions of romance, linked Feb. 14 to “amour” because that was when birds began mating. The Bard himself, William Shakespeare, alluded to Valentine’s Day in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and in “Hamlet.”

Sending Valentine’s Day cards began in the early 19th century, and the giving of flowers, chocolate, and other gifts became more widespread in the 19th century, too. Looking to buy chocolate this Valentine’s Day? Here are America’s 30 Best Chocolate Shops

To find out what Valentine’s Day looked like in the past, 24/7 Tempo reviewed articles from media sources, resource sites, as well as stories published on the website of greeting card company Hallmark.