How Did Valentine’s Day Become a Thing? Part Two

Yesterday I started writing about what I’d found on line about how Valentine’s Day started and became what it is today. If you haven’t read it yet, I’d actually suggest that you do before you continue.

From what I discovered, it certainly didn’t start out in a very romantic way. Not when people were being imprisoned and beheaded.

So let me continue the story.

I had mentioned Chaucer writing that poem “Parliament of Fowls” for King Richard II, which evidently caused romantic ideas to become more popular. And no, I haven’t read it. Chaucer and other writers of the time celebrated romance between knights and their ladies, many of noble lineage, who could never marry. (Which was usually because the lady was already married, but that’s a whole other subject.) And by the 1400’s these nobles had begun writing poems known as “valentines” to the ladies who were the subject of their attention.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a guy write me a poem, and based on some of the writing I’ve seen from that era, I don’t think I’d want one. But that was a different time. Plus, since the literacy rate wasn’t real high then, could the subjects of their attentions even read them? And did those knights actually write them themselves or pay someone to do it for them? Food for another blog.

But the holiday slowly developed and evolved, with traditions that are still around today.

Exchanging cards didn’t become popular until the 1840’s when the first mass produced cards were made in the U.S.  Now, did you know that these first cards were sold by Esther A. Howland, known as the “Mother of the American Valentine”? She is evidently credited with commercializing Valentine’s Day cards here in the U.S. Although I’ve never heard of her, and probably you haven’t either, my source says she is remembered for her elaborate, crafty cards made with real lace, ribbons, and colorful pictures she called “scrap.” So, Hallmark, you have Ms. Esther to thank for a lot of your success! According to the last figures I saw, 145 million valentine cards are exchanged every year, not counting the homemade ones.

Which brings us to Cupid. I’d always wondered about that little guy and how he came to be associated with Valentine’s Day. After all, who goes around nearly naked with a bow and arrow shooting people, and that’s supposed to be a symbol of love?

Well, Cupid actually evolved from the Greek god of love named Eros, who was said to be a handsome immortal man with the power to make people fall in love, although I’m not sure it involved a bow and arrow. Sometime in the 4th century BC the Romans adopted Eros into their mythology, re-named him Cupid, and made him into the image of what we know today. And because he was originally known as the god of love, it sort of figured he’d become associated with Valentine’s Day, even though that didn’t happen until around the 19th century.

What about red roses? Giving flowers didn’t become a popular custom until the 17th century, It’s said that King Charles II of Sweden learned about flowers being paired with specific meanings on a trip to Persia, and when he returned home to England he introduced the tradition to Europe, and the act of giving flowers on special days, including Valentine’s Day became popular. And of course, red roses with their rich deep color, were sent to symbolize a deep love for the recipient.

Then there’s chocolate. Everyone I know loves it, and it’s especially important for Valentine’s Day. But did you know the first heart-shaped box of chocolates was created by Richard Cadbury who was the son of Cadbury founder John Cadbury. How did he come up with the idea? To increase sales, of course. The first heart shaped box of chocolates was introduced for Valentine’s Day in 1861, and today more than 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are sold each year.

Guys, are you paying attention here?

Now one more important item to discuss; those cute colorful little valentine conversation hearts. I don’t know anyone who hasn’t either received them or given them for Valentine’s Day. But do you know their history? It’s not really romantic.

It all started when Boston pharmacist Oliver Chase invented a machine that simplified the way throat lozenges were made, which also resulted in America’s first candy-making machine when Chase decided to shift his focus to making candy instead of the lozenges. He founded the New England Confectionary Company, today known as Necco. Sound familiar? And in 1866 the first messages were printed on Necco sweetheart candies. Although those were bigger than the version we have today it sure started a trend, didn’t it?

And one of the first messages? “Married in white you have chosen right.” Well, it was 1866.

So now you have all the information you’ve possibly wondered about Valentine’s Day.

But you can also research all of this yourself as well, and if you find anything different, it’s most likely because you’re looking at a different website. Let us know if you find something else.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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