CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) — One of the oldest traditions of showing your affection on Valentine’s Day is to gift someone with chocolate. It’s been a holiday tradition for centuries across many countries, and it started long before Champaign took part in the festivities.

How chocolate became a Valentine’s Day tradition

According to, the Mayans began the tradition of celebrating love with chocolate long ago. Around 500 BCE, they used cocoa-brewed beverages during wedding rituals to demonstrate a couple’s bitter-sweet future together. Montezuma II, who led the Aztecs, used chocolate as an aphrodisiac for a time.

During the 19th century in Europe, chocolatier Richard Cadbury made chocolate much more accessible and affordable to the general public. His chocolate box in 1861 adorned with cupids and roses became a symbol of love when lovers exchanged the boxes as letters to each other to retain as keepsakes and special memorabilia.

Milton Hershey made chocolate famous in North America when he created the chocolate “kisses” or drop-sized chocolates in 1907. Years later, chocolatier Russell Stover created the heart-shaped box of chocolates, and the public loved it when it hit shelves in 1923.

Chocolate traditions in Champaign

The tradition of buying chocolates for a special someone continues in various countries and cultures each year as millions of people celebrate Valentine’s Day. Here in Central Illinois, Fannie May in Champaign has been open since 1959, and the store continues to be a part of Champaign’s decades-long chocolate tradition.

The store had a holiday deal weeks leading up to the special day this year in which anyone could create their own box of chocolates, filling up a box with all of their favorites. There were also great deals on other varieties of chocolates.

“It’s always one of our busiest times of the year,” said store associate, Rachel Coleman. “Most everyone who comes in knows what they want to buy, which makes the job much easier and enjoyable.”

Coleman said this year’s customer favorites included pixies and vanilla buttercream as they are staples of Fannie May.

She also said that many people purchased chocolates for more than just their special someone. Many older women purchased chocolates for their children and grandchildren, and men purchased chocolates for their daughters and mothers.

However you spend Valentine’s Day on Tuesday, be a part of the tradition with a sweet piece of chocolate.