Although considered a 'Hallmark Holiday' by many, Valentine's Day is anchored in traditions that revolve around the expression of love, affection, empathy and sacrifice.
St. Valentine's Day began as a celebration of one or more early Christian saints named Valentinus. Several martyrdom stories were invented for the various Valentines, with the most popular account being that of Saint Valentine of Rome. Legend has it that he was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry and for ministering to Christians, who were persecuted under the Roman Empire. According to legend, during his imprisonment, he healed the daughter of his jailer. An embellishment to this story states that before his execution he wrote her a letter signed "Your Valentine".
The day was first associated with romantic love in the circle of Geoffrey Chaucer in the High Middle Ages, when the tradition of courtly love flourished. Jack B. Oruch writes that the first recorded association of Valentine's Day with romantic love is in Parlement of Foules (1382) by Geoffrey Chaucer:
For this was on seynt Volantynys day
Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.
["For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."]
In 18th-century England, it evolved into an occasion in which lovers expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as "valentines"). Commerce took over in 1797 with the introduction of The Young Man's Valentine Writer, which contained scores of suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches and moving parts, called "mechanical valentines". In 1835, 60,000 Valentine cards were sent by post in Britain, despite postage being expensive
Vintage Valentines, including pop-up cards ('mechanical valentines')
Since the 19th century, handwritten notes have given way to mass-produced greeting cards. In the late 20th century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts, including roses, chocolates and lingerie. In the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine's Day as an occasion for giving jewellery.The U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year in the US. Half of those valentines are given to family members other than husband or wife, usually to children. When you include the valentines made in school activities, the figure increses to over 1 billion, with teachers receiving the most valentines.
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Valentine's day has certainly developed into an event that supports our industry. However, we invite those who refuse to engage with it to consider February 14th as chance, not a chore. Valentine's Day should be taken as an opportunity to express genuine love in whatever form you consider appropriate, be it in a handwritten note, via a bouquet of roses and box of chocolates, or through more imaginative pursuits. Furthermore, why limit your Valentines to your romantic interests? Showing your appreciation and affection for friends, family members and colleagues in a lighthearted way on Valentine's Day is a wonderful way to forge bonds and reinforce relationships.
Modern Valentine's Day cards and ideas.