By Julie R Butler
February has arrived, and that brings one of my favorite holidays. Of course, I’m talking about Valentine's Day, or as it’s often called in Mexico, Día del Amor y la Amistad. I love that there is a holiday to celebrate love and friendship. But even more, I love that this holiday elevates that heavenly substance so treasured by the Mesoamerican world that they considered it a gift from the gods. So in order to get in the mood for el Día de San Valentín, let’s talk a little about love, chocolate, love for chocolate, and Love for Mexico!
Feast Day for Saint Valentine: What’s Love Got to Do With It?
If there is a saint’s feast day for nearly every day on the calendar, why does Saint Valentine stand out as the one who is celebrated across the globe by Christians and non-Christians alike?
The reason, mis amigos, is Love.
Valentine of Rome was a martyr for love. He was a medieval priest who was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers of the Roman Empire, who were forbidden to marry because it was thought that it would negatively affect their performance.
But if secretly marrying couples who are in love isn’t romantic enough, legend has it that Valentine also performed the miracle of curing his jailer’s daughter’s blindness and then wrote her a goodbye letter signed, “Your Valentine” when it was time for his execution. So that’s how we got the tradition of sending valentines on Valentine’s Day.
Photo by Aurbataao, CC BY-SA 4.0
Chocolate for Valentine’s Day: What’s Mexico Got to Do With It?
It was the ancient Mexicans who discovered the wonders of chocolate, which is made from roasted, ground cacao seeds.
The Olmecs may have been the first people to domesticate the cacao tree for making cocoa paste. The Olmecs, who lived on the Gulf Coast of Mexico and were the mother civilization of the Mesoamerican world, probably use chocolate for purely ritual and medicinal purposes.
The Aztecs and the Mayans considered chocolate to be of divine origin, along with maize and other foods gifted to them by their gods. These pre-Columbian Mexicans used cocoa powder to make a rich, bitter, frothy drink in combination with ingredients such as water, chili peppers, vanilla, and cornmeal.
Photo by AlejandroLinaresGarcia, CC BY-SA 3.0
The Spanish brought Mexican chocolate with them back to the Old World, where the addition of sugar and advances in processing technology made it increasingly popular.
Love and Romance: What’s Chocolate Got to Do With It?
From its earliest use by humans, chocolate has been considered a highly desirable luxury item imbued with intoxicating and aphrodisiac effects.
For example, among almost 300 medicinal uses of chocolate by the Aztecs listed in the Florentine Codex are the properties of increasing sexual appetite and enhancing fertility, along with fortifying and sustaining stamina.
Cacao beans were a major form of tribute to leaders of the Aztec Empire, and the pods were a form of currency throughout the Mesoamerican world. And in Europe, as well, it was only the wealthy elite who could afford to drink hot chocolate, until the Industrial Revolution brought the science and technology to produce chocolate in the solid form that we know and love oh so much today.
Un Brindis a los Mexicanos para el Día de San Valentín
While some ingenious marketing by chocolatiers has undoubtedly been greatly responsible for the popularization of heart-shaped boxes of chocolates as the classic Valentine’s Day gift the world over, it’s the joyful effects of content of those boxes on the spirit and the soul that make these small signs of affection so special.
Photo by Woodlot, CC BY-SA 4.0
And so, a toast to the Mexican people is in order, for the gift of chocolate and for making it possible to properly show our love and friendship on el Día de San Valentín!