story by CYNTHIA ALTORISO
Like love itself, the history of the Valentines greeting is…complicated.
The St. Valentine holiday originated in the pagan fertility feast of Lupercalia, which by 496 the Roman Pope claimed as Christian holiday and the annual date was set at February 14.
But who is St. Valentine? According to a six century story, he was a priest. On February 14th, around 270 our saint was put to death by Roman Emperor Claudius. His crime? Secretly performing marriage ceremonies for soldiers who were otherwise banned from that institution, as Claudius believed that married men did not make good soldiers. Valentine would remind the soldiers of their marriage vows by giving them hearts cut from parchment. Early philosophers believed the heart to be the seat of the soul and emotions. It is also said that Valentine corresponded with his jailer’s daughter. His last letter to her was signed, “From your Valentine”, and hence we have the first Valentine greeting.
St.Valentine’s influence for centuries remained religious rather than romantic love. Agape rather than Eros. It was in the 14th century that this Christian feast became associated with romantic love thanks to the Brits. English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, in keeping with the Middle Ages appreciation for courtly love, wrote a poem in celebration of the engagement of King Richard to Anne of Bohemia. As was custom, this poem was associated with a feast day, and the mating of the birds, and by this, the association with Love Birds was born. Romantic Valentine’s was there to stay.
Evolving over the years, by the 18th century it was customary to give gifts and cards on Valentine’s Day. These early cards were home-made of intricately cut paper embellished with ribbons and lace, cupids and hearts.
The mid-1800s saw the superior lithograph presses of Germany resulting in mass-produced, readymade cards, proscribed with romantic sentiments. Around the same time, a reduction in postal rates established the Valentine’s card as an ubiquitous annual custom.
By the 20th century, Valentine’s became more of an increased commercial venture, extending to more varied gift-giving such as chocolates, roses and champagne.
In the 1980s the diamond industry promoted the holiday as an occasion to gift jewelry. Enter the florists, restaurants, bakeries, lingerie and perfume companies, let alone digital versus traditional mail…the old-time charm of the holiday is a thing of the past.
These Valentine’s postcards remind us of what was and is no more. One of them is dated back to 1790 and valued at almost $6,000, making it the world’s most expensive Valentine’s card.
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