Valentine's Day And It's History
Valentine's day is a booming industry with millions of cards sent each year -- second in number only to Christmas cards, according to the Greeting Card Association (The happy day is also celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United States, France and Australia.) Who are the lucky recipients of all these cards? Experts say parents are the most popular recipients of seasonal cards, receiving about one out every five. Teachers, children, wives and sweethearts are also at the top of the list. Around 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to cards, there are millions of boxes of chocolates and bouquets of roses purchased (mostly by men) for the Feb. 14 holiday. When did the Valentine's Day frenzy begin? As is true of much of history, scholars tell slightly different versions of the history of this popular holiday so we'll take a look that history, with its Roman and Christian roots, as well as holiday traditions that have developed over the years. Read on -- you're sure to find a terrific way to tell your loved ones how you feel this Valentine's Day!
Valentine's Day Origins
Everybody knows about Valentine's Day but its origins are shrouded in mystery. According to University of Notre Dame Professor Lawrence Cunninghame., scholars have two main theories to explain how Feb. 14 became synonymous with romance:
Roman Feast of Lupercalia -- This ancient pagan fertility
celebration, which honored Juno, queen of the Roman gods and goddesses
and goddess of women and marriage, was held on Feb. 14, the day
before the feast began. During festival time, women would write
love letters, also known as billets, and leave them in a large urn.
The men of Rome would then draw a note from the urn and ardently
pursue the woman who wrote the message they had chosen. (Apparently,
the custom of lottery drawings to select valentines continued into
the 18th century, coming to an end when people decided they'd rather
choose -- sight seen! -- their valentines.)
The Birds and the Bees? -- In the Middle Ages, people began to send love letters on Valentine's Day. Medieval Europeans believed that birds began to mate on Feb. 14.
Who Was St. Valentine?
There's also some controversy regarding Saint Valentine, for whom the famous day is named. Archaeologists, who unearthed a Roman catacomb and an ancient church dedicated to St. Valentine, are not sure if there was one Valentine or more! Today, the Catholic Church recognises at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred on Feb. 14 -- at least two of those in Italy during the 3rd century.) The most popular candidate for St. Valentine was a 3rd century Roman priest who practised Christianity and performed secret marriages against direct orders from Emperor Claudius II, who believed single soldiers were more likely to join his army. Legend has it that Valentine sent a friend (the jailer's daughter) a note signed "From Your Valentine" before he was executed on Feb. 14 in 270 A.D. (That phrase is still used prominently on today's cards!)
Early Christians were happier with the idea of a holiday honouring the saint of romantic causes than with one recognising a pagan festival. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius named Feb. 14 in honour of St. Valentine as the patron saint of lovers. In 1969, Pope Paul VI dropped it from the calendar. However, the blend of Roman festival and Christian martyrdom had caught on and Valentine's Day was here to stay!
Verbal and singing valentines began to be replaced by written missives in Europe in the 15th century. The first written valentine is usually attributed to the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans, in 1415. He reportedly passed the time by writing romantic verses for his wife. By the 16th century, written valentines were commonplace.
Early valentines were made by hand, using coloured
paper, watercolours and coloured inks. These valentine styles, some
still made today, included:
Pinprick valentines, made by pricking tiny holes in paper with a pin to resemble the look of lace Cutout valentines, lace-look cards made by folding paper several times and cutting out a lace design with small, sharp scissors.
Acrostic valentines, which had verses in which the first letters in the lines spelled out the beloved's name Rebus valentines, verses in which small pictures took the place of some of the words (For example, an eye instead of I)
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Cards decorated with black and white pictures painted by factory workers began to be created in the early 1800s; by the end of the century, valentines were being made entirely by machine. Sociologists theorise that printed cards began to take the place of letters, particularly in Great Britain, because they were an easy way for people to express their feelings in a time when direct expression of emotions was not fashionable. Manufactured cards notwithstanding, increasingly beautiful handmade Valentines were often small works of art, richly decorated with silk, satin or lace, flowers or feathers and even gold leaf. And many featured Cupid, the cherubic, be-winged son of Venus, and a natural Valentine's Day "mascot." Some of the more unusual valentines were created by lonely sailors during the Victorian era -- they used seashells of various sizes to create hearts, flowers and other designs or to cover heart-shaped boxes.
It's not difficult to figure out the connection between the heart and Valentine's Day. The heart, after all, was thought in ancient times to be the source of all emotions. It later came to be associated only with the emotion of love. (Today, we know that the heart is, basically, the pump that keeps blood flowing through our bodies!) It's not clear when the valentine heart shape became the symbol for the heart (we all know the heart isn't really shaped like that). Some scholars speculate that the heart symbol as we use it to signify romance or love came from early attempts by people to draw an organ they'd never seen. Anyway, here are some of the other valentine symbols and their origins:
Valentine's Day Roses
Red roses were said to be the favourite flower of
Venus, the Roman goddess of love; also, red is a colour that signifies
Lace has long been used to make women's handkerchiefs. Hundreds of years ago, if a woman dropped her handkerchief, a man might pick it up for her. Sometimes, if she had her eye on the right man, a woman might intentionally drop her handkerchief to encourage him. So, people began to think of romance when they thought of lace.
Love knots have series of winding and interlacing loops with no beginning and no end. A symbol of everlasting love, love knots were made from ribbon or drawn on paper.
Valentine's Kisses Xxx
Lovebirds, colourful birds found in Africa, are so named because they sit closely together in pairs -- like sweethearts do! Doves are symbols of loyalty and love, because they mate for life and share the care of their babies. How about the "X" sign representing the kiss? This tradition started with the Medieval practice of allowing those who could not write to sign documents with an "X". This was done before witnesses, and the signer placed a kiss upon the "X" to show sincerity. This is how the kiss came to be synonymous with the letter "X", and how the "X" came to be commonly used at the end of letters as kiss symbols. (Some believed "X" was chosen as a variation on the cross symbol, while others believe it might have been a pledge in the name of Christ, since the "X" or Chi symbol, is the second letter of the Greek alphabet and has been used in church history to represent Christ.) It became easier to mail valentines in the mid 1800s, when the modern postal service implemented the penny post. Until then, postage was so pricey that most cards were delivered by hand.
A variety of interesting Valentine's Day traditions developed over time. For example, hundreds of years ago in England, children dressed up as adults on Valentine's Day and went singing holiday verses from door to door. In Wales, wooden love spoons, carved with key, keyhole and heart designs, were given as gifts. The gift of flowers on Valentine's Day -- along with Mother's Day, the busiest floral holiday of the year -- probably dates to the early 1700s when Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art called "the language of flowers" to Europe. The rose, representing love, is probably the only flower with a meaning that is universally understood. The red rose remains the most popular flower bought by men for their sweethearts. In more recent years, people have sent their sweethearts their favourite flowers, rather than automatically opting for roses. Also making the list of valentine favourites are tulips, lilies, daisies and carnations.
Among early valentine gifts were sweets, usually chocolates, in heart-shaped boxes. Apparently, gifts of chocolates and flowers haven't replaced carefully chosen cards on Valentine's Day. The modern valentine card has become increasingly sophisticated, keeping pace with popular technological advances. For example, there are cards that let you record a romantic message, "scratch-and-sniff" cards (chocolate smells would be nice!) and cards that play romantic music. And of course, you can send e-mail valentines. Some sites even offer free personal use of their illustrations or cards. Other technology allows you to send a romantic fax or videotape with a personal valentine message. But choose your valentine carefully -- some people find fax and e-mail missives too impersonal -- and not private enough -- for this holiday of love! Sometimes the best ideas are the simplest!