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Why Do People Give Chocolate on Valentine's Day?

The sweet tradition has a very long history.

February 14 will soon be upon us, and while many people will choose cards, flowers, or jewelry as gifts to give those they love for Valentine's Day, chocolates are a perennially popular way to show someone you think they're special. Heart-shaped boxes filled with chocolates are a relatively recent tradition, but the bond between chocolate and love actually goes back thousands of years.

Hold on to your sweet tooth as you read on to find out exactly how and why we give each other chocolate on Valentine's Day.

It starts with an ancient tradition.

Mayan chocolate

The Mayans very clearly appreciated the magic of chocolate as they drank it, first roasting cacao beans and then grinding them into a paste that was mixed with chiles, cornmeal, and water. In addition to using chocolate in religious ceremonies and savoring it at the end of feasts, they were the first culture to make the connection between chocolate and love. Some Mayan wedding ceremonies included a ritual where the bride and groom ceremonially sipped chocolate.

So there we have it, the first big display of chocolate and love coming together.

Introducing an aphrodisiac.

Chocolate in different forms

The Aztecs also prized chocolate and traded with their Mayan neighbors to obtain it in vast quantities. Sixteenth-century ruler Montezuma II allegedly consumed chocolate in vast quantities in order to stoke his libido. Spanish explorers were quick to realize the appeal of chocolate though, and mixed cacao paste with cinnamon and cane sugar to cut the bitterness.

From Britain with love.

Heart box chocolates

Although chocolate became popular throughout Western Europe after its introduction by Spanish explorers in the 16th century, it was so expensive that it was mostly consumed by the wealthy. It wasn't until the mid-19th century that British company J.S. Fry & Sons created the first-ever chocolate bar by combining cacao powder and sugar with cacao butter. Within a few years, filled chocolates became wildly popular, with Fry & Sons competitor Cadbury introducing the first box of chocolates—dubbed the "Fancy Box"—in England in 1861.

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Just seven years later, the company produced its first heart-shaped box of fruit, ganache, and nut-filled chocolates in time for Valentine's Day gifting. Because the decorative boxes could be used to store love letters and other mementos long after the chocolates inside had been eaten, they proved to be thoughtful as well as toothsome gifts.

Thinking inside the box.

Box of chocolates

Giving chocolate on Valentine's Day proved just as popular in the United States as it was in Britain. Hershey's introduced its petite, romantically named Hershey's Kisses in 1907, and the iconic yellow Whitman's Sampler debuted in 1912. Whitman's even turned to movie stars like Jeanne Crain and Elizabeth Taylor to promote their sweet treats.

Meanwhile, chocolatier Russell Stover began marketing their distinctive line of heart-shaped boxes—which to this day include the petite "Red Foil Heart" and the lace-covered "Secret Lace Heart"—across the Midwest in the 1920s before expanding to be the number-one boxed-chocolate brand in the United States.

Chocolate reign.

Chocolates and flowers

Wondering what to get your sweetheart this February 14? Go ahead and say you love them with chocolate, because that's what everyone else is doing. If history is any predictor, chocolate will outshine cards and flowers this V-Day, as it's always done.

According to data gathered by Nielsen, Valentine's Day candy generated $695 million in sales in 2017—and chocolate played a major role. In fact, Americans spent $11 billion on chocolate throughout the year.

So, when it comes time to show the ones who make you feel all warm and fuzzy how much they mean to you, there's a good chance you'll be saying it with some chocolate. And if anything, you're just honoring an age-old, very sweet tradition.

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Kate Mulcrone
Kate Mulcrone is an entertainment, food, and travel writer. Read more