The Origins of Valentine’s Day
Ever wonder why we give roses and teddy bears in mid-February? Or why we exchanged cards with sweet nothings with classmates in school? The Valentine’s greeting, whether it’s a gift or a message written on heart-shaped candy, is a sweet tale of passion and creativity that we can really appreciate.
It’s thought that Valentine’s Day was named for three different Christian saints each named Valentine, one of whom at least was martyred on (or around) February 14 in the third century in Rome. This date coincides with the pagan holiday Lupercalia, a fertility festival in which women were matched with men by a random draw and also blessed with sacrificial goat’s blood thought to make them fertile. It’s speculated that celebrating the martyred St. Valentine instead on this day became a convenient way to Christianize the ancient pagan holiday over the years. Legend holds that the first “valentine” was written by the saint himself to a young woman with whom he fell in love while imprisoned. He signed his note “from your Valentine,” and the moniker has stuck.
The tradition of expressing love and affection on St. Valentine’s Day has lasted through the ages. In Victorian England, it became popular for lovers to exchange handwritten notes on this day. However, expressing loving sentiment so personally was not always in fashion, and by the mid-1800s in America, the first mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards were introduced.
If you thought premade Valentine’s Day cards were the invention of corporations like Hallmark, think again. These valentines were ornate, handcrafted objects produced by artist and businesswoman Esther A. Howland. The daughter of a stationery shop owner in Worcestershire, Massachusetts, Howland began creating her cards with imported paper and supplies from England. The cards featured elaborately cut paper, often resembling lace, interlaid with rich colors and images of primroses or lovers in Victorian dress. Howland had been inspired by expensive cards that were made in England but were too expensive for most people in the U.S.
After the success of her first batch of cards, she founded the New England Valentine Company in 1840. She recruited friends to help produce cards and keep up with demand, and the company enjoyed unprecedented success until Howland retired in 1881. The company was purchased by George C. Whitney, who had an existing stationery business. It ultimately folded at the start of WWII with its rations on paper.
After the war, Valentine’s Day became more commercialized in the U.S., much like Christmas. Small gifts such as chocolates and flowers would become popular accompaniments to a simple card. But we can still embrace the handcrafted appeal of these gifts and messages to loved ones on Valentine’s Day. Something made with care, love and individual creativity keeps tradition very much alive.
Here are 10 of our suggestions for gifts crafted with heart.