The History of the Valentines Day Card

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Valentines Day has become a very big deal. Social Media is mostly to blame to the Valentines Day / Anti-Valentines Day explosion. These days, the day set aside for love and chocolates has become all about Facebook Posts and Instagram Bouquets and e-cards and e-harmony. But the truth is Valentines Day was all about the card.

But the truth is, Valentines Day was once all about the card.

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For hundreds of years, people simply sent cards, Valentines Day Cards, inspired by the very first valentines day card signed “your Valentine” by Saint Valentine in the 3rd century BC. The story of the Valentines day Card was not always about chocolates and roses, and candy and trips to the movies. It came from criminals, outlaws, imprisonment and beheadings.

Who was Saint Valentine?

The 14th of February is definitely St. Valentines Day. There are three early Christian saints by the name St Valentine, and each one of them are said to be martyred on Feb. 14. So, which one started the day of love?

Many believe it was the priest in Rome, who lived in the third century AD that sent the first valentine card. He lived during the time of Emperor Claudius II who had banned marriages among young men. It was during the end of his reign and the empire was falling apart and he needed all the manpower he could gather. Emperor Claudius believed that unmarried men made for more committed soldiers.

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Saint Valentine continued to arranged secret marriages during this time.

He was caught, imprisoned and sentenced to death for his crimes. While in jail, St Valentine was rumored to have fallen in love with the jailer’s daughter. The most commonly repeated legend – not substantiated in fact – was that Valentine’s prayers healed the blind daughter of the guard where he was jailed.

On the day he was executed, he left a love letter to the daughter signed Your Valentine as a farewell.

20th-century historians agree that the accounts from this period cannot be verified, but he did exist.

St Valentine’s Head was found hundreds of years later when people were excavating a catacomb near Rome in the early 1800s. Wearing a coronet of flowers and with a stenciled inscription, St Valentine’s skull now resides in the Chiesa di Santa Maria in Cosmedin, on Rome’s Piazza Bocca Della Verità.

But did any of this happen? And how did this lead to St. Valentines Day?

Perhaps it was all made up … 

Chaucer, the writer of The Canterbury Tales, might have actually been the one who begun celebrating love on the 14th of February. The medieval English poet took a few liberties with history, known for dropping characters into real-life historical events, leaving readers wondering what really happened.

While Saint Valentine definitely existed, Valentine’s Day is another story…

There is no written record of Valentine’s Day before Chaucer’s poem in 1375. It’s in Parliament of Foules that he links the tradition of courtly love to the St Valentine’s feast day – the tradition didn’t exist until after his poem.

The poem refers to February 14 as the day of birds coming together to find a mate. “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate,” he wrote and in doing so may have invented Valentine’s Day as we now know it.

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The Valentines Day we know today…

Valentine’s Day grew in popularity in England in the 1700s when people started sending cards and flowers to their loved ones, a tradition that continues today. These cards would be sent anonymously, simply signed, “your Valentine.”

The first commercially printed Valentine’s Day card was produced in 1913 by Hallmark, known as Hall Brothers at that time. By 1915, the company made all their money from printing and selling Valentines Day cards and Christmas Cards.

Today, more than a 150 Million Valentine’s Day cards are sold each year, making it the second busiest greeting card period of the year, behind only Christmas.

Where did the heart symbol come from? 

The heart symbol is synonymous with Valentines Day Cards.

Scholars such as Pierre Vinken and Martin Kemp have argued that the symbol has its roots in the writings of Galen and the philosopher Aristotle, who described the human heart as having three chambers with a small dent in the middle.

According to this theory, the heart shape may have been created when artists from the Middle Ages attempted to draw representations from ancient medical texts. Since the human heart has long been associated with emotion and pleasure, the shape was eventually co-opted as a symbol of romance and medieval courtly love.

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Today, more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate and more than 50 million roses are sold each year on Valentine’s Day. About 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged every year in the U.S. alone.

Women purchase approximately 85 percent of all Valentines.


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