Love is in bloom again as we approach Valentine’s Day. Paper hearts and romantic cards are flourishing in all manner of stores – card shops, stationery stores, office supply, grocery, art, and drug stores; wherever, in fact, greeting cards are sold. So, get out your valentines, heart stamps and red pens and be ready to write some notes and lick some envelopes.
Many people consider Valentine’s Day a modern day plot by card-makers, card shops, and other retailers to make more money. The cynics rue yet another symbol of commercialization. But a store-bought card is not a necessary accouterment for the occasion. A hand-written note, a beautiful flower, or a simple gesture of kindness is all it takes to show appreciation for your valentine(s).
Ancient Roman holidays, saints and martyrs aside, even the modern tradition of valentine cards goes back a long way. The association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love appears to originate with the writings of Geoffrey Chaucer, embodied in his poem Parlement of Foules (1382) (Parliament of Fowls):
“For this was on Seynt Valentynes Day,
Whan every foul cometh ther to chese his make,
Of every kinde, that men thynke may;
And that so huge a noyse gan they make,
That erthe and see, and tree, and every lake
So ful was, that unnethe was ther space
For me to stoned, so ful was al the place.”
Birds aside, people enjoyed valentines as well. By the late 18th century, British printers began producing a limited number of paper valentines. They proved to be so popular that by the early 19th century they were manufactured in factories. Mass produced cards were introduced in the U.S. by the mid 19th century.
Today, according to History.com, “approximately 150 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas.”
This number does not include the exchange of valentines in elementary schools, where students are encouraged to bring cards to school to give to classmates. Including school valentines, the number of cards sold each year goes up to one billion, with teachers receiving the most number of cards.
Such children’s valentines are sold in packets, with sweet designs, including special cards for the teacher. I found some lovely examples of these at Whole Foods as well as San Francisco’s Flax (art supply) store.
My friend Evette eschewed commercially produced cards when her daughter was young. Instead, she made Valentine’s Day into a fun family project. Her daughter designed the cards, and each was printed individually on a simple hand press. Nancy in Honolulu, a talented artist, was a master of doing craft projects with her five little girls. She shared the following.
“I remember we’d always decorate heart shaped sugar cookies. I have about 4 or 5 different sizes so we’d make 3-D cookies by using frosting to put the smaller ones atop the larger ones. I also have Cupid cookie cutters. And I have heart shaped pans. We often made a red velvet cake in the heart pans. And I have heart shaped cupcake holders too. Way too much sugar as I look back on it!!’
“We also were big on stamps. I have some really nice Valentine stamps – hearts, cupids etc. We’d cut colored construction paper hearts (so simple when folded down the middle.). Even little people can do it pretty easily. And then stamp on the stamps.”
As a child attending elementary school in the Midwest, I always looked forward to the annual valentine exchange tradition. Each student dropped their cards into a big box, to be distributed at a given time by selected students. It was great fun to receive so much “mail” in a day! I played favorites, selecting what I deemed to be the prettiest cards for the people I liked the best. Everybody played by the rules, however. Nobody was ever left out.
Today, Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world. A hand-written card or note is a simple gesture of appreciation for the people we care about in life. Or, you may wish to go whole hog, creating an exceptional card for special people, with ribbons, doilies, glitter, stickers and glue.
Perhaps you have an even more elaborate plan in mind, such as a surprise dinner out, tickets to a show, or delectable chocolates, to name a few possibilities.
No matter how you express yourself, don’t forget to remember your valentines! Now and every day is the time to share the love. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Librarius. The Parliament of Fowls.
Valentine’s Day. History.com
Valentine’s Day. Wikipedia