Valentine's Day

"People in most Western countries celebrate Valentine's Day on
February 14. Many schools hold Valentine's Day parties when the
children make special decorations for their classrooms. Old and
young alike exchange Valentine cards with their friends. The custom
of exchanging greetings on Valentine's Day goes back hundreds of
years. Scholars have found records of Valentine notes that date
from the 1400's.

Valentine's Day is a special day observed on February 14. On this
day, people send greeting cards called valentines to their sweethearts,
friends, and members of their families. Many valentines have romantic
verses, and others have humorous pictures and sayings. Many say,
"Be my valentine."

For weeks before February 14, stores sell valentines and valentine
decorations. Schoolchildren decorate their classrooms with paper hearts
and lace for the occasion. On Valentine's Day, many people give candy,
flowers, and other gifts to their friends.

Valentine's Day Around the World
In the United States and Canada, children exchange valentines with their
friends. In some schools, the children hold a classroom party and put all
the valentines into a box they have decorated. At the end of the day, the
teacher or one child distributes the cards. Many children make their own
valentines from paper doilies, red paper, wallpaper samples, and pictures
cut from magazines. Sometimes they buy kits that include everything needed
to make valentines. Many children send their largest, fanciest cards to their
parents and teachers.

Older students hold Valentine's Day dances and parties. They make candy
baskets, gifts, and place cards trimmed with hearts and fat, winged children
called cupids. Many people send flowers, a box of candy, or some other gift
to their wives, husbands, or sweethearts. Most valentine candy boxes are
heart-shaped and tied with red ribbon.

In Europe, people celebrate Valentine's Day in many ways. British children
sing special Valentine's Day songs and receive gifts of candy, fruit, or
money. In some areas of England, people bake valentine buns with caraway
seeds, plums, or raisins. People in Italy hold a Valentine's Day feast.

In Britain and Italy, some unmarried women get up before sunrise on
Valentine's Day. They stand by the window watching for a man to pass.
They believe that the first man they see, or someone who looks like
him, will marry them within a year. William Shakespeare, the English
playwright, mentions this belief in Hamlet (1603). Ophelia, a woman
in the play, sings:

Good morrow! 'Tis St. Valentine's Day
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your valentine!

In Denmark, people send pressed white flowers called snowdrops to their
friends. Danish men also send a type of valentine called a gaekkebrev
(joking letter). The sender writes a rhyme but does not sign his name.
Instead, he signs the valentine with dots, one dot for each letter of
his name. If the woman who gets it guesses his name, he rewards her with
an Easter egg on Easter. Some people in Great Britain also send valentines
signed with dots.

Different authorities believe Valentine's Day began in various ways. Some
trace it to an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia. Other experts
connect the event with one or more saints of the early Christian church.
Still others link it with an old English belief that birds choose their
mates on February 14. Valentine's Day probably came from a combination of
all three of those sources--plus the belief that spring is a time for lovers.

The ancient Romans held the festival of Lupercalia on February 15 to ensure
protection from wolves. During this celebration, young men struck people with
strips of animal hide. Women took the blows because they thought that the
whipping made them more fertile. After the Romans conquered Britain in A.D. 43,
the British borrowed many Roman festivals. Many writers link the festival of
Lupercalia with Valentine's Day because of the similar date and the connection
with fertility.

The early Christian church had at least two saints named Valentine. According
to one story, the Roman Emperor Claudius II in the A.D. 200's forbade young men
to marry. The emperor thought single men made better soldiers. A priest named
Valentine disobeyed the emperor's order and secretly married young couples.

Another story says Valentine was an early Christian who made friends with many
children. The Romans imprisoned him because he refused to worship their gods.
The children missed Valentine and tossed loving notes between the bars of his
cell window. This tale may explain why people exchange messages on Valentine's
Day. According to still another story, Valentine restored the sight of his
jailer's blind daughter.

Many stories say that Valentine was executed on February 14 about A.D. 269.
In A.D. 496, Saint Pope Gelasius I named February 14 as St. Valentine's Day.

In Norman French, a language spoken in Normandy during the Middle Ages, the
word galantine sounds like Valentine and means gallant or lover. This
resemblance may have caused people to think of St. Valentine as the special
saint of lovers.

The earliest records of Valentine's Day in English tell that birds chose their
mates on that day. People used a different calendar before 1582, and February 14
came on what is now February 24. Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet of the 1300's,
wrote in The Parliament of Fowls, "For this was on St. Valentine's Day, When
every fowl cometh there to choose his mate." Shakespeare also mentioned this belief
in A Midsummer Night's Dream. A character in the play discovers two lovers in the
woods and asks, "St. Valentine is past; Begin these woodbirds but to couple now?"

Early Valentine Customs
People in England probably celebrated Valentine's Day as early as the 1400's. Some
historians trace the custom of sending verses on Valentine's Day to a Frenchman
named Charles, Duke of Orleans. Charles was captured by the English during the Battle
of Agincourt in 1415. He was taken to England and put in prison. On Valentine's Day,
he sent his wife a rhymed love letter from his cell in the Tower of London.

Many Valentine's Day customs involved ways that single women could learn who their
future husbands would be. Englishwomen of the 1700's wrote men's names on scraps of
paper, rolled each in a little piece of clay, and dropped them all into water. The
first paper that rose to the surface supposedly had the name of a woman's true love.

Also in the 1700's, unmarried women pinned five bay leaves to their pillows on the
eve of Valentine's Day. They pinned one leaf to the center of the pillow and one to
each corner. If the charm worked, they saw their future husbands in their dreams.

In Derbyshire, a county in central England, young women circled the church 3 or 12
times at midnight and repeated such verses as:

I sow hempseed.
Hempseed I sow.
He that loves me best,
Come after me now.
Their true loves then supposedly appeared.

One of the oldest customs was the practice of writing women's names on slips of paper
and drawing them from a jar. The woman whose name was drawn by a man became his valentine,
and he paid special attention to her. Many men gave gifts to their valentines. In some
areas, a young man gave his valentine a pair of gloves. Wealthy men gave fancy balls to
honor their valentines.

One description of Valentine's Day during the 1700's tells how groups of friends met to
draw names. For several days, each man wore his valentine's name on his sleeve. The saying
wearing his heart on his sleeve probably came from this practice.

The custom of sending romantic messages gradually replaced that of giving gifts. In the
1700's and 1800's, many stores sold handbooks called valentine writers. These books included
verses to copy and various suggestions about writing valentines.

Commercial valentines were first made in the early 1800's. Many of them were blank inside,
with space for the sender to write a message. The British artist Kate Greenaway became famous
for her valentines in the late 1800's. Many of her cards featured charming pictures of happy
children and lovely gardens.

Esther A. Howland, of Worcester, Massachusetts, became one of the first U.S. manufacturers
of valentines. In 1847, after seeing a British valentine, she decided to make some of her own.
She made samples and took orders from stores. Then she hired a staff of young women and set
up an assembly line to produce the cards. One woman glued on paper flowers, another added
lace, and another painted leaves. Howland soon expanded her business into a $100,000-a-year

Many valentines of the 1800's were hand painted. Some featured a fat cupid or showed arrows
piercing a heart. Many cards had satin, ribbon, or lace trim. Others were decorated with
dried flowers, feathers, imitation jewels, mother-of-pearl, sea shells, or tassels. Some cards
cost as much as $10.

From the mid-1800's to the early 1900's, many people sent comic valentines called penny
 dreadfuls. These cards sold for a penny and featured such insulting verses as:

'Tis all in vain your simpering looks,
You never can incline,
With all your bustles, stays, and curls,
To find a valentine.

Many penny dreadfuls and other old valentines have become collectors' items.

Valentine, Saint, is the name associated with two martyrs of the early Christian church.
Little is known about them. The Roman history of martyrs lists two Saint Valentines as
having been martyred on February 14 by being beheaded. One supposedly died in Rome and
the other at Interamna, now Terni, 60 miles (97 kilometers) from Rome. Scholars have had
great difficulty in finding historical fact among the Saint Valentine legends.

The Saint Valentine who died in Rome seems to have been a priest who suffered death during
the persecution of Claudius the Goth about A.D. 269. A basilica was built in his honor in
Rome in A.D. 350, and a catacomb containing his remains was found on this location.

Another history of martyrs mentions a Saint Valentine who was bishop of Interamna and who
may have been martyred in Rome. By being remembered both in Rome and in Interamna, he may
have come to be considered as two people, but this is not entirely certain.

The custom of exchanging valentines on February 14 can be traced to the English poet,
Geoffrey Chaucer. He mentioned that birds began to pair off on that day."

~Above information taken from The World Book Encyclopedia 1998~