Every February, across the country, candy, flowers, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine. But who is this mysterious saint and why do we celebrate this holiday?
The history of Valentine’s Day — and its patron saint — is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.
So, who was Saint Valentine and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young, single men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death. Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.
According to one legend, Valentine actually sent the first ‘valentine’ greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed ‘From your Valentine,’ an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It’s no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.
Verses and 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. Early valentines were made by hand and were made with coloured paper, watercolours, and coloured inks
There were many different types of handmade valentines, including:
Acrostic valentines – had verses in which the first lines spelt 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
In the early 1800’s, valentines began to be assembled in factories. Early manufactured valentines were black and white pictures that were 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 1900’s a card company named Norcross began to manufacture valentines. Each year Hallmark displays its collection of rare and antique valentines at card shops around the country. Museums and Libraries also offer antique valentine exhibitions around St. Valentine’s Day.
My boyfriend is the world’s worst gift giver. He either always forgets and goes out at the last minute, buys wilted flowers, or the worst chocolate ever. He doesn’t mean that he just can’t seem to get good gifts.
Finally, last Valentine’s Day, I decided that I was going to force him to get me a quality gift. We made a pact to actually make each other’s gifts. I spent two whole days on his gift and card. I was getting kinda’ nervous when the day before Valentine’s Day I saw him cutting out little red and pink hearts from construction paper when I wasn’t looking.
Once Valentine’s Day rolled around and since my guy had to work I spent most of the day home alone. I was kinda’ depressed all day long as I thought of the gift he was going to give me. I know its the thought that counts, and that he always meant well, but around noon a delivery guy stopped by with a wilted rose for me. I was so upset.
Aaron called me later from work and asked did I want to go out to dinner. I said sure and went to take a shower. After I got out I found a card under the edge of the bathroom door. When I opened the door there was no one there. I opened the envelope and inside was a handmade card with the red and pink heart glued to it. The card read, “Love is big, love is tall, look for me in the hall.” So I went to the hallway and there taped to the wall was a second envelope and a rose. This time I was lead to the kitchen. There in the refrigerator was a third letter and a box of my favourite chocolates.
I was then led to the bedroom, and a bed covered with petals. Fresh ones might I add. I was getting so excited. I the centre of the bed I found one final letter. This letter led me out my balcony where my boyfriend sat with the dinner he had made at his sister’s house earlier that day (he had taken the day off) lit by candlelight. He even had my favorite song playing in the background. It was the most romantic night of my life and it totally made up for all the bad gifts I had ever gotten.
This year I decided to be a little creative and yet try to save a little money while doing something special for Valentine’s. I am going to do the 12 Days of Valentine’s. Starting 11 days before Valentine’s, I will leave little gifts for my loved one to find.
Day 1 – one balloon that says “I Love You”;
Day 2 – two coupons for various special favours or treats;
Day 3 – three love songs, some taped and some written words, that mean something special to us;
Day 4 – four love poems, I found on a postcard site and handwritten;
Day 5 – five terms of endearment;
Day 6 – six chocolate candy hearts;
Day 7 – seven flowers;
Day 8 – eight heart-shaped cookies;
Day 9 – nine message heart candies;
Day 10 – ten reasons (of the millions) why I love him;
Day 11 – eleven Hershey’s hugs and kisses;
Day 12 (Valentine’s) – twelve ways to say “I Love You”, languages.
I am still in the process of trying to figure out if I want to leave them in the same spot to be found at the same time every day, or if I want it to be more random. This was a lot of fun planning and didn’t cost much at all with our “poor student” budget. I think it will be very memorable.
Spelling it out
When my husband came home from an extended business trip, the first thing he saw when he came through the door, was I LOVE YOU spelt out with the kids big plastic blocks on the floor just inside the front door.
When he went to take a shower there was another message on the wall, I MISSED YOU, spelt out with foam letters that stick to the wall when damp. And on the refrigerator was another message made with the magnetic words. Having the kids’ toys spread around isn’t a bad thing when they tell him how much you care.
The most creative thing I’ve ever done for Valentine’s Day decorates a huge piece of white poster board with memories. I took candy wrappers that I saved from the first date, as well as love notes received from my honey, a receipt from a date that I paid for (since he was broke), a stuffed animal from one of those claw machines (which cost my beloved at least $25 to win), movie stubs, and other little reminders of the special times spent together. I safety-pinned the items in the shape of a heart.
Dress up and stay in
My husband and I had been married for only 5 months on our first Valentine’s together. We really didn’t have much money to spend on presents, and my husband is not creative at all, so I knew I would have to come up with something if I want a romantic Valentine’s. So the week before the 14th we decided that we were not going to buy presents, instead, we would make the day special by doing something together. Because we are both working, and too tired in the evening to cook, we bought our dinners from a lady, so dinner was all ready. When we got home from work, we dressed… and I mean dressed. I wore my most beautiful black evening dress, and he wore a black suit and white shirt (he looked so sexy)… While I was doing my hair and my makeup (as if we were going to a fancy place), he quickly set the table, lit the candles, and put on some soft music. We ended up dancing and sitting on the couch, telling each other how much we love the other one, and in the end, it was the most romantic evening of my life.
The first piece of jewellery I ever gave my, then future wife, I gave to her on Valentine’s Day. I had decided to give my Love a gold filigree bracelet, but I wanted to give it to her in a unique way.
A co-worker suggested giving her a stuffed bear and have the bear wearing the bracelet. My favourite pet name for my wife was “tiger”. I decided to go one up on the bear idea and find a little-stuffed tiger and use the bracelet as a collar. I had to search quite a while before I found a stuffed tiger small enough to use.
On Valentine’s Day, my love and I went to a very nice restaurant to have dinner and exchange Valentines. The hugs and kisses I got when she opened the box and found the little tiger with the gold collar were very wonderful.
Last year at Valentine’s, I got a big glass pickle jar from a restaurant, scrubbed it clean, and painted the jar with flowers, hearts, sunshine, clouds, etc.
Then I got a bunch of “fancy” doodle pads and began writing reasons & reminders of how & why I love my husband. It didn’t stop there– I began collecting little poems, quotes, and song lyrics to add to the pot.
When my husband is having a rough day he can open the lid and reach in for a “boost”. This jar was easy to make and VERY personal, and he enjoys it year around. I love to collect stuff for the jar as well!
One by one
When my wife and I were dating in high school (about 7 years ago), for Valentine’s day, I got a dozen roses for her. Instead of giving the entire bouquet to her at once, I gave them to her one class at a time.
I arranged for a friend of hers in each of her classes to pick up a rose from my locker and give it to her during that class. For one class, I even had to ask a teacher to present it to her! Attached to each rose, I had a (very) short poem written that pertained to that class (music, math, etc.) and my affection for her.
To my surprise, she has kept every one of those little notes, and we read them not too long ago with tears in our eyes. Those were probably tears of amazement or sadness because I don’t think I’ve lived up to that romantic moment since. (I’m convinced it was Divine intervention working through me then!) This idea could be modified for those couples who work or take college courses and know each others’ schedules and locations during the day.