Be Mine: Chocolate and Valentines
The Roots of Valentine’s Day Traditions
Old Sturbridge Village: Feb. 9th & 10th
[02/08/13 UPDATE: OSV will be closed Sat., Feb. 9th and opened Sun. Feb. 10th]
The tradition of having chocolate on Valentine’s Day is a longstanding one – it has been around since the early days of New England, even! Today’s Valentine’s traditions tend not to involve a lot of homemade chocolate or laborious preparations, however – usually we buy our chocolates at the grocery store or, in the most thoughtful of cases, from a local candy shop. However, early Americans spent a lot of time preparing their delicious chocolate foods – a tradition that families can learn about this weekend at Old Sturbridge Village!
The village’s annual Be Mine: Chocolate and Valentines offers families a chance to learn about the history of chocolate – how it was prepared, where it came from, and how it was eaten. Cacao beans were processed and ground by early New Englanders in order to create things like a spicy hot chocolate-style drink or a chocolate cake – with a surprising secret ingredient! There will be both displays and demonstrations from which families can learn about 19th century chocolate-making techniques. Do you know where the first Americans were supplied their chocolate from? Before visiting, watch a video on the history of chocolate to learn some useful background information on the process of acquiring and preparing cocoa beans!
Along with chocolate, Valentine’s Day brings the sharing of valentine cards! Since the roots of this tradition are local, the village will have special educational programs and hands-on activities on this topic, too! Families can learn about the Worcester resident whose humble handmade card business blossomed into a large card-making company and, eventually, the huge tradition of Valentine’s Day cards that we have today. Then, make your own valentines to share – inspired by images of antique cards shared by villages in the 1800’s.
Families can use a visit to the village to make this Valentine’s Day an educational one, rather than a commercialized one! Students can exerience the roots of some of the traditions that they participate in, and will learn to better understand early American culture. The village is open from 9:30am-4pm on both Saturday, February 9th and Sunday, February 10th. More information and a complete schedule of events is available on the village’s website. www.osv.org
Did You Know?
- Spanish conquistadors brought chocolate from Central America back to Spain in the 16th century. From there, it traveled through Europe, to England, and back to America.
- Early versions of “chocolate cake” do not actually contain any chocolate. The name means that the cake was intended to be enjoyed with a cup of chocolate, just as “coffee cake” today is meant to be served with coffee.
- Boston pharmacists advertised chocolate as a medicinal remedy as early as 1712, and by the late 1700s, there were hundreds of chocolate vendors in the city.
- Chocolate was drunk as a medicine during the Lewis and Clark Expedition, and by California Gold Rush miners, but later in the 19th century, with the addition of milk and more sugar, chocolate was preferred more as a confection than as a health tonic.
- New manufacturing processes developed during the Industrial Revolution transformed chocolate from an expensive drink into an inexpensive food. By the late 1800s, chocolate was widely advertised to women and children through colorful posters and trade cards, and its iconic status as the world’s preferred candy was secured.
- The best known legend about St. Valentine has that he was a Roman martyr killed for his faith on February 14, 269 A.D. He may have been a priest who married couples in spite of the Emperor’s ban.
- Valentine’s Day, like Christmas and many other Christian holidays, was originally an attempt to Christianize popular pagan festivals. In pagan Rome, February 14 was dedicated to the goddess Juno (Hera in Greek mythology), wife of Jupiter (Zeus) and patroness of women and marriage.
- Few New Englanders marked Valentine’s Day before its rise in the increasingly sentimental and economically prosperous 1840s.
- As with other holidays, those who made money from Valentine’s Day encouraged its observance. In the 1840s when printing technology improved, sending handwritten notes and printed cards became even more popular. Enterprising shopkeepers encouraged the exchange of gloves, books, candy, and other gifts among a growing middle class.
- Esther Howland, of Worcester, Mass. began designing fancy Valentine cards in 1848, and hired girls to help cut and paste together these small works of art. By 1850 she was advertising her cards in the newspaper, and by 1860 she was selling between $50,000 and $100,000 worth of Valentines annually.
(Source: Old Sturbridge Village)