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Saturday, February 13, 2010


The History of Valentine's Day


The true origin of Valentine's Day may never by known, since it is only legend that tells of the Christian martyr, Valentinus, who sent a letter of affection to his jailer's daughter on the eve of his execution.  

  There is no historical evidence to back up the legend, as romantic as it is, but it seems the romanticism itself is enough to give credence to the origin of this holiday. 

  We do know, however, that the Romans celebrated the pagan festival of Lupercalia on February 14, commemorating the rural god Faunus, patron of husbandry and guardian of the secrets of nature. It is believed that birds chose their mates for the coming season on this day


  The earliest known (proven) valentines are poems, composed for the Valentine's Day festivals for the courts of 14th-century England an France.  These poems celebrated 'joyous recreation and conversation about love'. 

  It is believed that this is when the custom of drawing lots for valentines began.  Girls drew boys' names and boys drew girls' names so everyone had a pair of valentines to choose from.  Whether the drawing itself resulted in many love affairs, or the lotteries were fixed in advance (which was not uncommon,) we shall never know. 

  By the 17th Century, lotteries were less common, and selections more deliberate.  It also became customary to present a gift along with the valentine card.  These gifts ranged from love-knots of plaited straw to the opulent jewelry showered upon royal mistresses. 

By the mid-18th century, costly valentine gifts were being replaced by elaborate versions of written love messages.  Ideally, these were poetic compositions. But while the artistic embellished their poems with lace and drawings, the malicious embellished theirs with vulgar or cruel greetings which they sent to the ill-favored, long-unmarried or deformed.  Thus, valentines were usually sent anonymously both to protect the giver and the receiver.


The Victorian Era: 

Valentine's Day reached its height of celebration in the Victorian Era. 

  Valentine cards were more cherished that Christmas cards (which weren't printed commercially until 1846), perhaps because of the sentimentality attached to them.  Due to this popularity, designing cards became a highly competitive market, with a vast array of motifs and verses.  Suddenly, cards were being produced in tens of thousands, from whimsy and slightly vulgar, to truly sentimental, their designs included lace paper, embossed envelopes, glass or metal mirrors, ribbons, dried ferns and fake advertisements, bank notes and marriage licenses.

Valentine cards were so popular that their production became a flourishing trade amongst cheap jack printers in central London.  Commercially printed valentine cards quickly superseded home-made offerings of earlier times.  They reached the height of their popularity during the 1870s and 80s.  

  Yet even though they were mass-produced, they still featured birds with real feathers, posies of dried flowers and spun-glass hearts, all trimmed with ribbons and gold lace. 

    Some valentines were so thick with embellishments, they came in presentation boxes. Some unfolded like fans, while mechanical valentines had levers or disks which made figures dance, hands move and birds flutter their wings.

The lyrics in these cards were as effusive as the decorations.  Whether sent by a steady beau or a secret admirer, these cards were unabashedly sentimental, pleading for affection and pledging undying devotion happily ever after.  Even men kept these tokens of affection hidden in their bureau drawers.  

  But as times changed, so did customs.  And as less became more on the advent of World War I, valentine cards became a dying art.

The History Of Cupid 


  Cupid, Roman God of Love and perhaps the most famous of all Valentine symbols, has always played a role in the celebration of romance. 

 As the son of Venus, he is often depicted as a mischievous, winged child whose arrows pierce the hearts of his victims, causing them to fall in love. 

 Cupid is derived from the Latin word cupido, which means "desire." His Greek counterpart is Eros (from whom comes the word "erotic"), young son of Aphrodite, Goddess of Love and Beauty, and Ares, God of War. In Greek mythology, Eros has a brother named Anteros, sometimes represented as the Avenger of Slighted Love and sometimes depicted as the symbol of Reciprocal Affection.

According to legend, Cupid's arrows come in two varieties: the Golden Arrow, which generally signifies true love, and the Leaden Arrow, which represents wanton and sensual passion. He is also known to sometimes carry a torch with which to inflame desire between men and women.

Cupid is not always successful in his endeavors, however. Sometimes his arrows turn people away from those who fall in love with them. In some mythological tales, Venus was scratched by one of Cupid's arrows while playing with her son, the result being that the Goddess fell instantly in love with Adonis...the first man she saw after receiving the wound.

According to some sources, Cupid (as Eros) arose out of Chaos, along with Tartarus and Earth (making him one of the oldest Gods), only later becoming associated with Aphrodite as her winged son. The mingling of Eros (who, in this instance, was considered to have no parents) with Chaos is said to have created the race of birds. In certain mythological tales, it is stated that there was no race of immortals before Eros caused all things to mingle.

Other legends maintain that Eros hatched from an egg laid by Nyx, also known as Night. Cherubs are also believed to be descendants of Cupid. Depicted as lovable little winged creatures devoid of either arrows or quivers, cherubs are typically not mischievous, as is their infamous alleged ancestor.

Cupids In The Victorian Era: 

If you could return to the Victorian age, you would find cards aplenty adorned with cupids, hearts, darts and tender verses, all emissaries of love. 

But you might be surprised by valentines insulting a dandy for poor fashion sense, chiding a bachelor to marry, teasing a groom, or telling a suitor to butt out: "Don't think yourself so vastly killing/ Little men I quite despise/ And I never shall be willing/ To accept one of your sighs." 

In another card, a bride to be teases her groom: "I think you love me, it is true/ And well, perhaps it may be,/ But if we're married, say will you,/ Object to nurse the baby."

  Popular mechanical valentines had tabs that could be lifted to reveal bawdy details, such as a lady's petticoat, and feature biting verses:

  "No doubt you are pleased with yourself/ But nevertheless/ with your notions of dress/ You many find yourself left on the shelf."

Victorians sent novelty valentines from the "Bank of True Love" and a "Map of Matrimony," transforming the pitfalls of Victorian courtship and marital blessings into an actual map with locations, such as the "Isle of Jealousy," the "Quicksands of Censure," and "Engagement Bay." 

Valentine's Day Victorian style is not just "about love" or "about romance." It is about sauciness and sentimentality, scorn and love, contempt and admiration. 
Cupids In The Bible:

Although cherubs (and the other plural form of the word, cherubim) are mentioned in the Bible as being second only to seraphim in the angelic realms; when they're portrayed in vintage Valentines, their role is a little less serious. 

Usually half or fully naked and surrounded by birds, flowers, hearts and other symbols of Valentine's Day, you can't help but think of them as cute. 

They bear little resemblance to their description in the book of Genesis (Gen. 3:24): angels who guarded the Garden of Eden with "a flaming sword which turned every way." In the images on this page, they're bearers of romance armed with love's arrows, not flaming swords. 

The Victorians seemed to be obsessed with them, as they appear not just in Valentine's Day images, but also in many other images they used year-round. And I'm glad they were obsessed, because they left behind all these wonderful vintage Valentine’s cards.


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