It’s Valentine’s Day.
Time to express our devotion to those most important to us in our lives.
It could be in the form of flowers (courtesy one of the many florists advertising on the radio), or perhaps a quiet dinner without the kids, or if you’re into these things, a 7-foot tall plush animal that will apparently bring out the wild side in your mate (hey the radio spot implied it, don’t blame me!).
One thing is for certain.
No matter what manner of love you see fit to show your sweetie, there remains one likely standard that will invariably end up in their hands…the ultimate token of our affection.
The Valentine card.
Call me old school, but I find it much more romantic to have a real-live piece of paper in my hand with authentic writing on it that required more than a couple of seconds’ visit to a quirky website and a brief text message or 140-character message.
I mean, who doesn’t like to get a nice Valentine?
And there are so many to choose from and for each age group.
There are the mass-produced (albeit dwindling) miniscule boxed cards strategically placed near the entrances of every retailer in the land, from big box stores to even the likes of rural farm equipment sellers.
Each year, the kiddos from preschool to elementary level (with some older middle-school holdouts still continuing the tradition) gravely choose the perfect genre with which to convey their message. These usually range from the usual cute fuzzy critters to the newest big animated movie tie-ins. Then with the help of Mom (typically), it’s time to check out the (hopefully) preprinted class list to ensure that every last student receives their own special note. Then the kids dutifully cart these cards to school for the breathlessly anticipated distribution, hopefully during a sugar-laden party tossed in for good measure. I remember all too well bringing home my loot from my parties, dumping them on my bed, and pouring over the names over and over. Oh the fun it was!Be My Valentine!
Unfortunately, the childish Valentines soon become uncool and then it’s a lag until young love prompts us yet again to the pink and red displays on Valentine’s week.
Those smitten youngsters usually fall into two categories.
The young ladies who prepare months in advance. For whom selecting the perfect card takes a great deal of time and attention. They know exactly what they are looking for and they will spend hours if not weeks in their quest to find just the perfect token of their affection for their Prince.
Then there are the Princes.
Or more likely the dudes.
The dudes who otherwise would never be caught dead in any row containing pink stuff. The last-minute husbands and boyfriends crammed together on the fateful day vying for any reasonable card that at this point is not too dog-eared and doesn’t have dirt (at least not too much) on the front.
It’s actually kind of funny really. I mean, why does the purchase of one $3.50 card seem to garner so much FEAR in the hearts of these fellows? Have they truly been reduced to slobbering fools in their frantic attempts to avoid the side eye? I mean, isn’t love supposed to be for more than one particular day?
And what the heck is Valentine’s Day anyway?
Saint Valentine’s Day
According to History.com, the exchanging of heartfelt sentiments has evolved over the years. In ancient Rome, there apparently was a priest called Valentine, who, when learning that Emperor Claudius II decided to outlaw marriage, he
… 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, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first ‘valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl–possibly his jailor’s daughter–who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today.
Thus a romantic star was born and his actions may have set in motion the traditions we see today. There may also have been some talk of the Roman Feast of Lupercalila, a pagan ritual celebrating fertility, which the Church attempted to “Christianize.”
However, Valentine’s Day truly started may be a mystery but its influence and scope today largely owes its origins to lovers beginning in the Middle Ages who longed to express their love at the same time as the birds’ mating season, around the middle of February each year.
Again, according to History.com,
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was 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. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) 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.
Apparently love DOES conquer all.
But how did a poor Duke in the Tower’s sweet sentiments to his lady love translate into the Hallmark holiday we see in our modern society?
Another website on Hubpages.com, suggests:
…A Miss Esther Howland of the Worcester, Mass., Howland received such a card from one of her father’s English business associates somewhere around 1847. A recent graduate of Mount Holyoke Female Seminary and a contemporary of Emily Dickinson, Miss Esther took one look at the card and recognized almost immediately that she could do much better. But then, her father was a stationer, was he not?
Esther convinced her father to invest some $200 worth of materials in her Valentine’s venture, and her brother took the results among his samples on his next round of sales calls through New England. Frankly, dear old dad hoped to break even on the deal. Imagine his shock when his son returned with $5,000 worth of advance orders for Miss Esther’s fancy cards!
The Howland Valentine’s card business grew quickly to an $100,000 annual venture. No small feat for the late 1890s! Ironically, Miss Esther Howland, “The Mother of the American Valentine” died in 1904 never having married.
Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year.
A Heart to Mend
That’s a lot of love going around.
There exist today a plethora of greetings just waiting to deliver themselves into your beloved’s possession but for this lover of vintage, I invite you to look at some charming Valentines of days gone by.
Check out the Scrap Album site. In it, you can see the history of the most romantic of holidays and view samples of art from long ago. It’s a great resource for all old-timers like myself.
If you haven’t got your old-timey Valentine fix yet, there’s also the Vintage Valentine Museum which shows quite an extensive collection of amazing and beautiful notes from those days when the selection of the perfect note was of utmost importance. From whimsical to highly stylized, there seem to be no end to the creativity of those artists assigned design duty for these fabulous sentiments.
It’s Love! It’s Sweethearts! It’s Valentine’s Day!
However, I’d caution you to avoid sending a reproduction of some of the more, ahem, questionable Valentine cards, back in the bad old days. You might find yourself in worse shape than had you not bothered at all. Warning: Some of these may be NSFW.
I’d like to think I am a pretty good writer but my skills pale in comparison to the words below written for just such an occasion, penned by a much finer author than I.
I Carry Your Heart
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
Photos courtesy Jim Miller and Joanna Goddard