The History of Valentines

Sweet Valentines; How gift giving became integral to the language of love.

St. Valentines the legend

Valentines is a global holiday, celebrated by romantics pursuing the affection of their desires. Valentine sweethearts will exchange love notes, heart shaped chocolates, roses and other sweet nothings. The day is so popular that it has shaped how we in the west view romance, and has transformed the iconography surrounding love.

We celebrate Valentines day on the 14th of February, which as legend has it, was when Saint Valentine was martyred.

There are a few variations of the martyr myth, the first being that he was a jailed priest named Valentine, who signed a love note to his jailors daughter from ‘your valentine.’ The other being Saint Valentine of Ternri, who disobeyed a ban by Emperor Claudius II, by marrying Christian couples. The ban was allegedly put into place as the young men were needed for the army; However, such a law never existed.


St. Valentines the many

A deeper look into the legends yields little clarity; Over 30 Valentines have believed to have achieved Sainthood throughout history, 3 of them ultimately becoming martyrs. Two of which died within the same two year period, both, of the 14th February.

Yet not one of these 30 Valentines bear any significant connection to romantic love, this was to be attributed posthumously. It took until the 14th Century for any romantic convention to be established.

Until then, valentines day was Christian feast associated with one, or several St. Valentines. The feast was officially created in the 5th Century A.D. with the aim of Christianising the roman feast of Lupercalia; Which was typically Roman, featuring sacrificing animals, and whipping women to increase their fertility.

Thank the Romans, or a poem.

Upon replacing Lupercalia with St. Valentines day, the origin story of Saint Valentines slowly condensed through out the ages. So that by the 9th century, Saint Valentines was now a single figure and became the patron saint of epileptics.

The romantic upheaval is attributed to a 14th Century poem by Chaucer, “The Parliament of Fowls” in which St. Valentines day is the day in which birds flocked to choose their mate, in honour of the newly wed King Richard II.

Poets of his time and since have followed suit, and deployed Valentines day for their own romantic literary purpose. So that by the middle ages, St. Valentine was connected to courtly and chivalrous love.


The sweet valentines

With poets such as Shakespeare and John Donne continuing with Chaucer’s tradition in their poetry, culturally cementing the Saint as a patron of romantic love. It was only a matter of time before people started employing the saint for their own romantic purposes.

Eventually leading to the first known ‘valentines;’ A love letter sent by the Duke of Orleans. While being held captive in the Tower of London in 1415, he sent his wife a letter addressing her as “My very gentle valentine.”

The tradition of passing love letters became increasingly popular in England during the 16th century that by 1797 “The Young Man’s Valentine Writer” was published, guiding young romantics through writing their own love letters.

The tradition was further cemented by the passing of the Uniform Penny Post Law in 1840, which enabled anyone in England to send post for just a penny, democratising the act of sending a valentines letter to the masses .

Valentines; the shift from person to gift

The exchange of letters became so popular during the Victorian era, that postmen we given special allowances just for working on the day.

With the dawn of industrialisation, and the rollout of the printing press, the exchange of printed card began to replace hand written letters, and small gifts were exchanged on the day. In 1861 Richard Cadbury introduced a heart shaped box containing his chocolates in the run-up to the 14th. And in the early 20th century Hershey’s kisses were invented.

The success of these early printed card and the iconography of heart shaped chocolates and flowers were so great that they have come to define the contemporary view of Valentines day. A connection so culturally renown, that Saudi Arabia, which has banned Valentines day, prohibits the sale of all things red from flower and gift shops on the 14th of February.

Hallmark produced their first commercial valentines card in 1913

The history of Valentines

While it may be simpler to attribute act of gifting chocolate and other sweet things to early 20th century industrialists, the connection between chocolate and romance is an endearing one. Honey, flowers, and chocolates all played an important role in offering linked to fertility and love in Mesoamerica.

The ritual of giving gifts only intensified with the advent of mass media and advertising, but is not endemic to it.

Giving gifts has long been a way to express affection, solidarity and peace among people, and the rituals surrounding it are an important part of human culture and society.

Send a Valentine cake today for delivery on 14th February

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