Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Valentine's Day

So, how did I get so lucky as to actually be able to post about Valentine’s Day ON Valentine’s Day? Being the total history nerd that I am, I decided the best place to start was with a search of the origins of this holiday when we buy or receive chocolates, give and get syrupy cards, and is often the day most chose to “pop the question.”
c. 1870 Victorian Valentine made of paper and glass

The holiday we know didn’t quite start out all bouquets, sweets, and happiness. It’s got a darker past. Most historians agree it probably started with the Romans and the festival of Lupercalia, where men hit up on women by…ummm…hitting them. Part of this “celebration” involved men sacrificing a goat and a dog, then whipping women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. They believed this would make them fertile. Sure. Whatever. I guess this is also where the adage of “When in Rome, do as the Romans do” comes into play. For more
Lupercalia festival--I just might be ill this day, thanks, anyway.
information about this probably pre-Roman, pastoral festival, go here:

The ancient Roman Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine's Day. Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine's Day with Lupercalia in an attempt to expel the pagan rituals. Lenski adds, "It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn't stop it from being a day of fertility and love."

c. 1870 Victorian Valentine
Over time, the Church lost its grip on the holiday and the day grew sweeter. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized the day in their works, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Handmade paper cards became the tokens-du-jour in the Middle Ages.

However, it was the Victorians who made Valentine’s Day into the holiday we know. The introduction of the “penny post” in Great Britain made it all possible to send those often hand-made cards embellished with lace and ribbons to a loved one (or a hoped to be loved one). The Industrial Revolution ushered in factory made cards and with the advent of the penny post, the holiday took off. Just one year after the penny post was introduced, 400,000 valentines were posted throughout England.  By 1871, 1.2 million cards were processed by the General Post Office in London.

Over here, on the other side of the pond, Esther Howland (1828–1904), known as the “Mother of the American Valentine”, was an artist and businesswoman who is responsible for popularizing Valentine’s Day greeting cards in America. During her college years, students often secretly exchanged poems elaborately scrawled on sheets of paper. When she 19 years old, Howland received an ornate English Valentine from a business associate of her father. Elaborate cards were imported from Europe and the average American couldn’t afford them. Howland wanted to change all that and began importing paper lace and floral decorations from England to make her own cards.
Howland Valentine

By the mid-1850s Valentine’s Day cards were so popular that the New York Times published sharp criticism on February 14, 1856:
Our beaux and belles are satisfied with a few miserable lines, neatly written upon fine paper, or else they purchase a printed Valentine with verses ready made, some of which are costly, and many of which are cheap and indecent.

In any case, whether decent or indecent, they only please the silly and give the vicious an opportunity to develop their propensities and place them, anonymously, before the comparatively virtuous. The custom with us has no useful feature, and the sooner it is abolished the better.

The sending of Valentine Cards in the US didn’t pick up pace until after the Civil War. On February 4, 1867, the New York Times wrote that in 1862 post offices in New York City had accepted 21,260 Valentines for delivery. 1863 showed a slight increase, but the number fell to 15,924 the year after.
However, in 1865, perhaps with bitter memories of the war starting to fade, New Yorkers mailed more than 66,000 Valentines, and more than 86,000 the following year.

Howland Valentine
Since the sweetening of the holiday, February hasn’t been the same since. And, why not? By mid-February, here in the northern hemisphere most of us have just about reached the end of our “appreciation” of winter. Why not celebrate happiness, the hope of true love, and some frivolity?

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