There are many explanations of how and when Valentine’s Day gift-giving began,
My own explanations is—‘way back in the days when my ancestors lived in warm dry caves, my great-great-great-grandparents traded gifts as
tokens their affection for each other. Great-grandma gave great-grandpa the first succulent berries of the season, and great-grandpa gave great-grandma a bouquet of the first flowers from the low meadow a long walking distance away.
Some of the traditions of Valentine’s Day include the exchanging of elaborate cards, candy, flowers and other gifts between loved ones. The question is, where did these traditions come from and who is St. Valentine?
There are three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred; all are recognized by the Catholic church.
One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who lived during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men because he felt a single man made a better soldier than one with a wife and family. Valentine continued to perform marriages of lovers in secret. When Claudius found out about it, he had him put to death.
In another sad legend, St. Valentine sent the first Valentine greeting from death row. Having fallen deeply in love with a girl who visited him in prison, he wrote her a love letter just before his execution. He signed it, From your Valentine, an expression used to this day.
Some historians think the early Christian church placed St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to Christianize the popular Pagan celebration of Lupercalia, a celebration of the Ides of February, or February 15.
Lupercalia was a festival dedicated to the she-wolf or Lupa, step-mother of the twin brothers, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where, it was believed, the she-wolf had nurtured the infant twins.
The priests would make sacrifices to Lupa. Later in the day, the young women of Rome would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors, blindfolded, would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often led to marriage.
Lupercalia survived early Christianity but was outlawed as un-Christian at the end of the 5th century, when Pope Gelasius proclaimed February 14 St. Valentine’s Day.
Over the years, legends portrayed Valentine as a sympathetic, heroic and romantic figure. By 1400 Valentine became one of the most popular saints in England and France.
The day became firmly associated with love during the Middle Ages; it was commonly believed that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season.
Written Valentines didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known Valentine still in existence is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt in the Hundred Years’ War
(Saint Crispin’s Day).
Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a Valentine note to Catherine of Valois.
In the United States, handmade Valentines were first made and exchanged in the early 1700s. By the 1840s, Esther A. Howland (see story at right) known as the Mother of the Valentine, set the style in romantic greetings for all time when she began selling elaborate Valentines she designed and created with real lace, ribbons, sentimental verses and colorful pictures.
According to the Greeting Card Association, a staggering one billion Valentine’s Day cards will be sent this year. Make that one billion and one—I just mailed mine.
The Mother of the American Valentine
Esther Howland (1828-1904) called “The Mother of the American Valentine” was personally responsible for for making valentine cards popular in the United States. 1n 1848 when she was 19 years old, she received an ornate imported English Valentine from a business associate of her father. Back then, elaborate Valentine greeting cards were imported from Europe and most Americans could not afford to buy them. Fascinated by these cards, she decided to make them herself at a price Americans could afford.
She recently graduated from Mount Holyoke college in 1847, when the college itself was just 10 years old. Encouraged by her father, who owned the largest stationery and book store in Worcester Massachusetts, she began her business by ordering paper flowers and paper lace from England.
Ms. Howland handmade a dozen samples, which her salesman-brother showed to customers on his next sales trip around Massachusetts. Anticipating (at best) $200 worth of orders, she was overjoyed when he returned with $5,000 in sales. One dollar today would be worth $28 in 1848. So her $5,000 would be worth $150,000. Her $5,000 was a massive amount in those days.
Employing friends and neighbors, she developed a thriving business in Worcester, Massachusetts using an assembly line. She named her business the “New England Valentine Company.” An artist and businesswoman, she kept designing new Valentines which became renowned throughout the United States. Her business eventually grossed over $100,000 per year. She eventually sold the business in 1881 after many successful years.