Not Just a Hallmark Holiday

How many times have you heard that the modern Valentine’s Day is an invention of card and chocolate companies. Well, that’s simply not true.

Saint Valentine’s Day began as a liturgical Christian celebration in honor of Saint Valentinus. This doesn’t sound too terribly romantic, of course. It turns out that the day was first associated with love during the High Middle Ages in the circles of Geoffrey Chaucer, because ideas of courtly love and ideas of romance flourished during this era. There definitely was not a Hallmark around in London during this time attempting to boost February profits.

By the time the 18th and 19th centuries rolled around lovers had begun using this day to proclaim their feelings to one another. Gifts of chocolates, flowers, and cards were given and hearts, cupids, and doves were drawn out on handmade greeting cards. At the beginning of the 19th century, men and women made their own cards and inscribed them with their own words of affection, but books of love poems for inscription could be purchased for the less creative minds.

By the mid-19th century a few exceptional card makers had emerged. Friends and family recognized the talent in some of these individuals and asked them to make cards for their use on Valentine’s Day. Soon, these card makers were receiving payment for their work and, thus, the first mass-produced cards were given as gifts on Valentine’s Day. One of these women, named Esther Howland recruited her brother, a salesman, to solicit orders from stores.

As new printing technologies evolved and tastes changed at the turn of the century, the elaborately decorated, lace-covered cards fell out of fashion and America was on its way to producing the modern Valentine’s Day card. So, if you haven’t purchased a card for your sweetheart yet, you’d better get out there and do so before they are all taken. Or you could, perhaps, do as the Victorians and try your hand at making a card. I’d skip the towel clad cupids, though; they don’t really scream romance these days.



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