Once upon a valentine's day, how'd we get here?


Ah, love is in the air...or is that the small of over-priced roses and sought-after reservations? Whether you love Valentine’s Day or abhor it, there’s no denying...when February 14th rolls around each year, it’s a red-letter day.

I’m not big into the whole capital-letter Valentine’s Day or all the stress it can cause, but I am into celebrating love in any form (sidebar: Galentine’s Day is a favorite new term) so I look forward to the silly cards, the candy treats, and the one day where it’s okay to be a bit sappy.

I have super fond memories of filling out my perforated valentine’s day cards, purchased as the local grocery store, for all of my classmates and selecting the cutest Hallmark card to send to my grandmother. Valentine’s Day seems like the perfect holiday for a designer...which got me to wondering just how we got here.

Most of us know the story of Saint Valentine who performed illegal marriages but I was surprised to learn this is mere legend and no evidence exists to support the quaint saga. Indeed, the actual holiday is named for two different Roman saints each with tenuous links to any sort of love at best. Rather than dive down that historic hole, I skirted the notion and continued on my quest for the history of the valentine.

It seems exchanging printed designs on Valentine’s Day wasn’t a big to-do until those prudish Victorian’s took over. They created lavish cards, hand-making each one with special flourish. Ribbon, lace, flowers, and more were utilized in the creation of a proper valentine and most were hand-delivered as postage prices were outrageous to all but the super wealthy.

Following the path of hand-made cards, I also learned of puzzle purses, which became popular in the early 1800’s and are surely a historic nod to the 80’s chatterbox game, but far more ornate and with strict numbering to allow the recipient a lovely reading experience.

Mass-produced cards became popular in the mid 1800’s as the price of postage decreased. There was an almost immediate focus on cute cartoons and even a subset of vulgar cards that became popular, in addition to the continued tradition of lace-and-ribbon designs.

From there, printing and designs continued to reflect the cultural trends, slowly evolving into today’s Pinterest-worthy school collection boxes and singing-tabloid size creations. Not much remains of the original, hand-made declarations of love...just as not much is known about the saints for whom the day was named.

Love it or leave it, Valentine's Day has a rich history to explore!

Referenced Sources:

http://www.victoriantreasury.com/library/2007-01_Puzzle_Purses/

http://www.history.com/news/hungry-history/celebrating-valentines-day-with-a-box-of-chocolates

http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/story/?id=1218

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