Posts Tagged ‘Russell Stover’

What is more appealing as a token of love on Valentine’s Day than a heart-shaped box of chocolate candies? How did this custom begin?chocolate candy: Illustration of a Partially Open Gift Filled with Chocolates

As with many traditions, St. Valentine’s Day evolved from a mixture of Christian commemoration and mythological folklore. The most popular version of this day’s origin relates to St. Valentine, a priest during the reign of the Roman Emperor, Claudius II in 270 A. D. The Emperor believed single men made better soldiers and therefore forbade them to marry. St. Valentine secretly performed wedding ceremonies for many young soldiers and was, therefore, jailed. While imprisoned, he healed the jailer’s daughter, and before execution wrote her a note signed “Your Valentine.”

Others believe customs of Saint Valentine’s Day originated centuries before from the pagan Feast of Lupercalia celebrated between February 13 and 15. The occasion, one of the most ancient Roman festivals, celebrated Lupercus, the god of fertility. For years the Christian church tried to suppress the festival. By the fifth century, Rome began to move away from paganism towards Christianity. The Feast of Lupercalia became relegated to the lower classes and eventually ceased. Pope Gelasius abolished Lupercalia and later established the celebration named after St. Valentine.

In 1537, King Henry VII of England officially declared February 14 as St. Valentine’s Day. The holiday of feast and romance mimics portions of the pagan festivities. In the years to follow, participants celebrated with poems and later valentine cards, roses, and eventually candy.

Chocolate had a history as a love food. The Mayan and Aztec elites prized chocolate as a luxury item. By the 1600s, this decadent treat in the form of a drink had spread through Europe with the advent of chocolate houses. Even Marie Antoinette had her own chocolate maker.

In an effort to find use for pure cocoa butter and to make a more palatable chocolate drink, Richard Cadbury in 1861 originated the idea of “eating chocolates.” He filled heart-shaped boxes decorated with cupids and rosebuds with these new confections. Thus he spawned an industry of heart-shaped boxes for sale on Valentine’s that now has projected sales of more than 35 million at a value of over $1 billion. Chocolate became the choice sweet for Valentine’s Day.

By the late 1800s, Milton Hershey, successful in caramel making, began covering those caramels with sweet chocolate. After the turn of the century, he sold foil-wrapped chocolate kisses which today we enjoy year round. Hershey advertised them as a nourishing food.

Then there was Russell Stover whose wife began wrapping candies in her kitchen in 1923. They moved from Denver to Kansas City and opened several factories. The Stover’s sold Valentine chocolates in heart-shaped boxes to department stores and eventually bought out Whitman’s, expanding their focus to big-box retailers like Target and Walmart.

All those famous brands remain today to entice us throughout the year, but especially on February 14. Few now think of St. Valentine’s Day as a religious celebration. The traditions of love and chocolate, however, seem to last forever. After all, Hershey was right. Chocolate is nutritious unless you indulge too much. May your admirer gift you on this special day with a box of chocolates. Enjoy!


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