A Brief History of Valentine’s Day (with treats!)

“So, fall asleep love, loved by me… for I know love, I am loved by thee. ”
— Robert Browning

This coming Thursday, February 14th, is Valentine’s Day, a holiday that we associate with romantic love, flowers, and candy. But, how and when did this holiday begin? And why do we celebrate l’amour with Valentine’s Day cards and gifts of sweets?

Valentine’s Day, or more accurately, Saint Valentine’s Day, (or the Feast of Saint Valentine) began as a liturgical festival celebrating the life of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. According to early church history, there were several martyrs who went by the name Valentinus, but there are three specifically celebrated on February 14:

  • Valentine of Rome was a priest in Rome was martyred about AD 269. His flower-crowned Skullof Saint Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome.
  • Valentine of Terni became bishop of Interamna, and was martyred about AD 197 by Emperor Aurelian.
  • The Catholic Encyclopedia also speaks of a third saint named Valentine who was martyred in Africa on February 14. Not much else is known about him other than his head was preserved in the abbey of New Minster, Winchester and venerated as a holy relic.

A popular legend surrounding Saint Valentine concerns his arrest for performing Christian marriages and spreading the ministry.  Condemned to death, he was imprisoned, and while awaiting execution he is said to have healed the blind daughter of his jailer. Just before he was led away, he wrote her a farewell note, which he signed, “Your Valentine,” thus providing the inspiration for our tradition of Valentine’s Day notes.

Another legend says that Saint Valentine performed clandestine marriages for Roman soldiers, who were forbidden to marry at that time. In order to remind the soldiers of God’s love and to remind them of their Christian vows, Valentine cut paper hearts out of parchment, giving them to the soldiers and other persecuted Christians. This is often cited as a possible source for our use of the heart as a symbol of Saint Valentine’s Day.

The first recorded association of Saint Valentine’s Day with romantic love comes from the medieval English poet Geoffrey Chaucer in his Parlement of Foules (1382):

“For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.”

(“For this was on Saint Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.”)

Chaucer wrote the poem to commemorate the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, both just 15 years old at the time of their wedding. Several other medieval authors mention Saint Valentine’s Day, including Shakespeare, and John Donne. But, it was Edmund Spenser in The Faerie Queene (1590), who supplied the an early version of ‘roses are red’:

“She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.”

Clearly, the words resonated, because we then see the recognizable form in Gammer Gurton’s Garland (1784), a collection of English nursery rhymes:

heart-cupid“The rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou’d be you.

From there, it was just a small step to 1797’s The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, a compilation of verses intended for use by those unable to compose their own sentiments. Eventually, printers began to reproduce these verses on card stock with romantic illustrations, creating the first direct ancestor of our modern Valentine’s Day card.

Since that time, Saint Valentine’s Day has established itself as a significant holiday, and traditions have expanded to include gifts of flowers, candy, treats, and many other affectionate tokens. And while the focus of the holiday may have shifted over the centuries from a liturgical expression to a gesture of love and affection, the current sentiment is clearly a treasured tradition that shows no signs of fading.

We’ll leave the flowers and cards to their respective industries, but we know a little something about good food. And Zingerman’s has many delicious sweets and treats available to help make your Valentine’s Day memorable.

The Zingerman’s Bakehouse will make you a delicious Valentine’s Day Cake, completely covered in hand-piped pink butter cream rosettes and a sprinkle of sparkle. Inside are tempting layers of buttermilk chocolate cake and a kiss of strawberry butter cream filling.  We also have Valentine’s Day Heart Cookies, delicious butter cookies with a hint of fresh citrus zest, and adorably decorated with fresh vanilla fondant that spells out expressions of love and affection.  Or, perhaps a loaf of heavenly Chocolate Cherry bread, made with the best Belgian and French chocolates and dozens of Michigan dried cherries!

The Zingerman’s Deli has more delectable Valentine’s Day sweets than a person could possibly eat in a sitting – but it would sure be fun to try! We’re currently taking pre-orders for our wonderful Chocolate Dipped fresh strawberries and Chocolate Covered fresh vanilla marshmallows from the Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory. Available for pickup at Zingerman’s Next Door 2/12, 2/13, & 2/14.  Call 734-663-3354 to pre-order.


The Deli also carries a huge selection of luscious chocolates, bonbons, truffles, and many other distinctive confections from Grocer’s Daughter, Chocolate Moderne, Sweet Gem Confections, Chocolate in Chelsea, and Fran’s Chocolates, and, of course, Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory. Let us create a custom gift box for your sweetie!

Don’t forget, you can find Zzang Bars and other Candy Manufactory delights at any of the Zingerman’s businesses! Adopt a delicious Zzang bar today!

“All you need is love. But a little chocolate now and then doesn’t hurt. “
— Charles M. Schulz