Wednesday, January 18, 2012
The celebration of Valentine’s Day has a long and rich history with roots in Christianity and Roman tradition. In our digital age with people in constant communication with one another and discussions about whether we even need the USPS I hope that people don’t abandon the idea of buying and sending a handmade card or making their own. Receiving a card to hold in your hand while reading a heartfelt message or verse is such a sweet and simple expression of affection.
In Great Britain the celebration of Valentine’s Day began in the 17th century. In Norwich, England the general custom was to leave gifts, often anonymously, on doorsteps on St. Valentine’s eve. The bearer of gifts would deposit the present, ring the bell and then disappear. These packages sometimes contained valuables, but other times were more of a prank. They might contain a mundane note wrapped in layer upon layer of wrapping paper.
Unlike today it was common for friends as well as lovers to exchange small gifts and handwritten notes in all social classes. Oranges, dolls, silver pencil holders and books were common gifts. Sweet plum buns and gingerbread were also customary Valentine’s Day gifts in certain regions. In Wales carved wooden spoons with designs of hearts, keys and key holes were traditional gifts. With the introduction of penny postage, the use of the envelope and better printing technologies printed cards made it easier to express feelings, although still often anonymously.
In Victorian times cards were made of lace papers, satin ribbons, velvet and tulle. Gloves or illustrations of gloves on cards became a symbol of the holiday. Fathers were very strict and would not allow their daughters to read any correspondence unless they had read and approved of it first. For that reason cards were designed with secret panels to conceal sentiments of affection.
In the United States Esther A. Howland became the first commercial designer of mass produced Valentines in the 1840s. Howland, a graduate of The Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, had received a Valentine made in England. Convinced that she could produce an even better version convinced her father, the owner of a book and stationery store in Worcester, MA, to order her paper supplies from England. She produced samples that quickly led to an extremely popular line of cards.
Today the “burden” of Valentine’s Day often falls to men with the expectation of jewelry, red roses and boxes of chocolate, but wait, isn’t this a leap? On a leap year it is just as common for the woman to send a message of love! Available here.