On Feb. 14, 1885 - Valentine's Day - U.S. Marines were finally authorized to retire after 30 years service.
Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday?
The history of Valentine's Day -- and its patron saint -- is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.
So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men -- his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.
According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl -- who may have been his jailor's daughter -- who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.
A young Frenchman, Charles, Duke of Orleans, was one of the earliest creators of valentines, called "poetical or amorous addresses." From his confinement in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, he sent several poems or rhymed love letters or "valentines" to his wife in France.
During the fifteenth century, one valentine showed a drawing of a knight and a lady, with Cupid in the act of sending an arrow to pierce the knight's heart.
During the seventeenth century people made their own valentines using original verse or poems copied from booklets with appropriate verse.
The English attitude toward St. Valentine's Day in the middle of the eighteenth century is summed up in this verse printed in Poor Robin's Almanac in 1757:
This month bright Phoebus enters Pisces,
The maids will have good store of kisses,
For always when the fun comes there,
Valentine's Day is drawing near,
And both the men and maids incline
To chuse them each a Valentine;
And if a man gets one he loves,
He gives her first a pair of gloves;
And, by the way, remember this,
To seal the favour with a kiss.
This kiss begets more love, and then
That love begets a kiss again,
Until this trade the man doth catch,
And then he doth propose the match,
The woman's willing, tho' she's shy,
She gives the man this soft reply,
"I'll not resolve one thing or other,
Until I first consult my mother."
When she says so, 'tis half a grant,
And may be taken for consent.
Turtle Doves and Love Birds
"Oft have I heard both youth and virgin say
Birds choose their mates, and couples too, this day;
But by their flight I never can divine,
When I shall couple with my Valentine."
Legends & Firsts
It was thought that birds chose their mate for the year on February 14. Doves and pigeons mate for life and therefore were used as a symbol of "fidelity."
The first commercial valentine appeared circa 1800 and were rather simplistic. But by the 1830's and 1840's Valentines contained delicate and artistic messages. Valentines made of fine papers and decorated with satin, ribbon, or lace commanded high prices. They had pictures of turtledoves, lovers' knots in gold or silver, bow and arrows, cupids, and bleeding hearts. All of these symbols have become associated with love and lovers.
In the 1840's the first mechanical valentines were introduced. By pulling a tab, a figure or object on the card could be made to move. Some had elaborate honeycomb pop-outs or various other three-dimensional features.
In the 1840's messages on early valentines included:
"I fondly, truly love thee."
"My orb of day departs with thee."
I love thee! Oh! I love thee!
Dearer art thou than life.
I love thee! I love thee!
Say, wilt thou be my wife?
"'This Valentine's Day, to the church let's away;
No longer I'll wait, let us marry.
You promised, dear maid, that you would be mine,
If I, till today, would tarry.
Valentine Writers. After 1723, American valentines began to grow with the import from England of valentine "writers." A writer was a booklet containing a vast array of verses and messages which could be copied onto gilt-edged letter paper or other decorative sheets. One popular writer contained not only "be my valentine" type verses for men to send, but also acceptance or "answers" which women could return. Here is an example:
A short time since I danc'd with you,
And from that hour lov'd you true;
Your pleasing form, your charming air,
Might with a fabl'd grace compare;
Your accents, so melodious sweet,
Still on my ear does seem to beat;
And 'tis the first wish of my life,
To win my Delia for a wife;
Deign, my sweet maid, a line to send,
And may love's saint my plea defend.
Your Valentine is very kind,
Nor did a cool reception find;
Your company gave me delight,
When I danced with you t'other night;
Then mutually we did incline,
Our hearts to love, my Valentine.
From then on, Valentines became less artistic and overornamented. During the Gay Nineties they were adorned with garish spun glass, mother-of-pearl, imitation jewels, or silk fringe. Proof of the less attractive, cheap-looking valentine is seen in the "vinegar valentine." John McLaughlin, a New York printer, created these comic valentines that were printed on cheap paper in crude colors. His messages made fun of old maids, teachers, and others. Comic designs done in 1870 by the American cartoonist Charles Howard were called "penny dreadfuls"--a perfect name for them because they sold for a penny and the designs were dreadful.
First U.S. Valentines
The first U.S. made valentines were crafted by a Mount Holyoke College student, Miss Esther Howland. Her father, a stationer in Worcester, MA, imported valentines every year from England. Esther, however, decided to create her own valentine messages. Around 1830 she began importing lace, fine papers, and other supplies for her valentines. She employed several assistants and her brothers helped market her "Worcester" valentines. As one of our first successful U.S. career women her sales amounted to about a hundred thousand dollars annually--not bad for the 1830's.
In our century we've seen a change from the heavy sentimentality of earlier days to what can best be described as a light touch. Nowadays a valentine usually accompanies a more elaborate gift of candy, flowers, perfume, etc.
American school children usually celebrate St. Valentine's Day with a party at school. Prior to the party the children make a decorated box with a slot in the top. During the party the children distribute valentines to their classmates' Valentine's Box.
Valentine cards are manufactured on an enormous scale today that range from the sentimental to sophisticated to humous valentines. There is a valentine for everyone--sweetheart, spouse, children, parents, teacher and even your pet! In terms of the number of greeting cards sent, Valentine's Day ranks second only to Christmas.
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