A Brief Guide to Valentine’s Day History
Valentine’s Day history isn’t something they teach us in school or if it was I’ve forgotten all about it. Seen as though it’s almost the end of January and the 14th of February is approaching faster than a whirlwind romance. I guess it’s about time I gave you a quick recap on this super important piece of human history.
Rule number 1, you can call it three different things. Valentine’s Day, Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine. Perhaps people were too hungry to say the last one, as it’s a bit of a mouthful, especially with food in your gob. Let’s just stick with Valentine’s Day, eh? It’s soo much easier.
It was Started by a Saint…
It first started off as a feast day named after, yep, you’ve guessed it, Valentinus, and he was a Western Christian Saint. Although this day is famous worldwide, celebrated for romance and love, it isn’t actually a bank holiday, unlike many other days in the calendar. It was first associated with romantic love during the times of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th Century.
During the 18th century this progressed into an occasion where people presented their loved ones with gifts such as flowers, confectionery and cards. The cards included poems and love letters in their handwritten Valentines, as they were to be known as. Girls especially eagerly anticipated their arrival each February. As the 19th century approached, mass production had overtaken the handwritten cards of earlier years.
We Love Sending Cards to One Another!
“Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…”— Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2
The earliest surviving valentines in English appear to be those in the Paston Letters, written in 1477 by Margery Brewes to her future husband John Paston “my right well-beloved Valentine”.
“To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.”— William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5
We Also Like Sending Flowers… and Chocolates
With the 1840s invention of the postage stamp, over 400 thousand Valentines were sent the following year. Mailing was less personal, but a lot easier than hand posting letters. After all, it’s hard to be secretive if you are seen walking up the garden path with your lover’s card in your hand.
More modern times have seen chocolates, flowers and wine sent as a gift to win a maiden’s heart. The principle is still the same, but there is something more meaningful with handwritten efforts than cheap and cheerful printed cards and verses. It’s not just the time involved, but the person has put more effort in, which means more to most people. I assume that it’s easier to feel loved if someone went out of their way.
A Countryside Walk is a Cheap-but-Romantic Option
For the less well off among us, you can always offer to take your Prince or Princess for a lovely walk outdoors. You just need to keep your fingers crossed that the good old English weather holds up. Getting soaking wet won’t do you any favours, but maybe it will sort out the keepers from the not-worth-your-times.
Valentine’s Day is massive the world over. The United States of America, for instance, spent $18.2 billion dollars in 2017 on 190 million cards. That works out at $136 per person. A rise of $28 since 2010. Astonishing.
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