February 14th is the day we celebrate Valentine's Day. Today it is celebrated as a holiday for lovers, where they give each other gifts of candy, flowers and jewelry. The actual day originated in 5th Century Rome as a tribute to St. Valentine, a Catholic bishop.
For 800 years before the formation of Valentine's Day, the Romans had practiced a pagan celebration in mid-February commemorating a young man's rite of passage to the god Lupercus. The celebration included a lottery where young men would draw names of teenage girls from a box. The girl designated to each young man would then be his sweetheart or sexual companion during the remaining year.
To do away with this pagan ritual, Pope Gelasius ordered a change in the lottery. Instead of names of young women, the box would contain the names of saints. Both men and women would draw from the box, and the game was to emulate the ways of the saint they drew during the rest of the year. Needless to say, many of the young Roman men were not too pleased with the rule changes.
Instead of the pagan god Lupercus, the Church chose the patron saint of love to take his place. They chose Valentine, who was beheaded in AD 270 by Emperor Claudius.
Claudius felt married men made poor soldiers, that as married men, his soldiers would want to stay home with their families rather than fight his wars, so marriage in his empire was illegal. But Valentine would secretly marry couples that came to him. When Claudius learned of what Valentine was doing he first tried to convert him to paganism. But Valentine switched his strategy, instead trying to convert Claudius. When his attempts failed, he was stoned and beheaded. It is said that Valentine was beheaded on February 14th, the eve of the Roman holiday Lupercalia. After his death, Valentine was named a saint. As Rome became more Christian, the priests moved the spring holiday from the 15th of February to the 14th - Valentine's Day. Now the holiday honored Saint Valentine instead of Lupercus.
During Valentine's imprisonment, he fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer. His love for her, and his great faith, managed to miraculously heal her from her blindness before his death. Before he was taken to his death, he signed a farewell message to her, "From your Valentine." The phrase has been used on his day ever since.
Even though the church prohibited the lottery for women, the February holiday in commemoration of St. Valentine, was still used by Roman men to seek the affection of women. It became custom for men to give the women they admired handwritten notes of love and affection, including Valentine's name.
It is believed that the first Valentine card grew out of this custom. The first actual Valentine card was sent in 1415 by Charles, duke of Orleans, to his wife. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London at the time.
Another symbol of Valentines Day, Cupid, became associated with it because he was the son of Venus, the Roman god of love and beauty.
The Valentine's Day Card
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, when lovers said or sang their Valentines. Written Valentines began to appear after 1400. The oldest Valentine in existence was made in the 1400's and is in the British Museum. Paper Valentines were exchanged in Europe where they were given in place of valentine gifts. Paper Valentines were especially popular in England. In the early 1800's, Valentines began to be assembled in factories. Early manufactured Valentines were black and white pictures painted by workers in a factory. Fancy Valentines were made with real lace and ribbons, with paper lace introduced in the mid 1800's. By the end of the 1800's, Valentines were being made entirely by machine. In the early 1870's, Esther Howland, an American printer and artist was among the first to publish and sell Valentines in the United States. In the early 1900's a card company named Norcross became one of the first companies to manufacture Valentines. With the exception of Christmas, American's exchange more cards on Valentine's Day than any other time of year.
There were many different types of handmade valentines, including:
Acrostic valentines - had verses in which the first lines spelled out the loved one's name
Cutout valentines - made by folding the paper several times and then cutting out a lacelike design with small, sharp, pointed scissors
Pinprick valentines - made by pricking tiny holes in a paper with a pin or needle. creating the look of lace
Theorem or Poonah valentines - designs that were painted through a stencil cut in oil paper, a style that came from the Orient
Rebus valentines - verses in which tiny pictures take the place of some of the words. (an eye would take the place of the word I)
Puzzle Purse valentines - a folded puzzle to read and refold. Among their many folds were verses that had to be read in a certain order
Fraktur valentines - had ornamental lettering in the style of illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages
You can visit our Greeting Card Museum to view some early Valentines.
The Most Famous of Valentine Symbols Cupid
Cupid known as a mischievous, winged child, whose arrows who would pierce the hearts of his victims causing them to fall deeply in love has always played a part in the celebration of Love and Lovers.
In ancient Greece Cupid was known as Eros the young son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. To the Roman's he was Cupid, and his mother Venus. One legend tells the story of Cupid and the mortal maiden, Psyche. Venus was jealous of the beauty of Psyche, and ordered Cupid to punish the mortal. But instead, Cupid fell deeply in love with her. He took her as his wife, but as a mortal she was forbidden to look at him. Psyche was happy until her sisters convinced her to look at Cupid. Cupid punished her by departing. Their lovely castle and gardens vanished with him and Psyche found herself alone in an open field. As she wandered to find her love, she came upon the temple of Venus. Wishing to destroy her, the goddess of love gave Psyche a series of tasks, each harder and dangerous than the last. For her last task Psyche was given a little box and told to take it to the underworld. She was told to get some of the beauty of Proserpine, the wife of Pluto, and put it in the box. During her trip she was given tips on avoiding the dangers of the realm of the dead. And also warned not to open the box. Temptation would overcome Psyche and she opened the box. But instead of finding beauty, she found deadly slumber. Cupid found her lifeless on the ground. He gathered the sleep from her body and put it back in the box. Cupid forgave her, as did Venus. The gods, moved by Psyche's love for Cupid made her a goddess.
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