Valentine cards are a very old tradition
Well, here comes another February. Valentine’s Day is less than a week away.
Love may very well find its way this year, but it will have to work a whole lot harder. If you’re stuck at home for most of the day, and everywhere you want to go seems to be closed, how ya gonna keep love alive?
Maybe one answer is valentine cards; although, some of us suspect that cards tend to be more popular with the elementary school crowd. Is a pandemic going to change that?
“It’s not anything to joke about, brother,” said Mail Tribune editor Everett Carl Ferguson, in 1950. “As a warning to romantically inclined but reluctant swains [young lovers or suitors], it is only fair to warn that this Valentine’s Day business has been going on for a long, long time. And, since the so-called gentler sex is undoubtedly determined to keep it going on for another long, long time, it might be well for you to be prepared with some vital statistics.”
“Ferg,” as the newsroom gang called Everett, proceeded to give a brief history of the lover’s special day.
Apparently, it was way back in 270 A.D. that St. Valentine, then a priest, was about to be executed for refusing to renounce his faith. He made friends with his jailer and had him deliver an uplifting note to the jailer’s blind daughter that St. Valentine signed, “From Your Valentine.”
For the next 1,000 years, plus, valentines remained friendly notes unrelated to love. However, sometime in the Middle Ages, lovers rediscovered Cupid and began penning passionate notes of enduring love, and “to elude vigilant fathers,” Ferg said, “they hid them in hollow trees that served as trysting places.”
Cupid, they tell us, began enchanting lovers at least 2,000 years before St. Valentine wrote his note. You may remember that Cupid was the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, and Mars, the god of war. No one knew what Cupid looked like until sometime in the fourth century, B.C., when Greek sculptor, Praxiteles, carved the first statue of the cherub boy carrying a bow and arrow that we know today.
Frenchman Charles, the Duke of Orléans, gets credit for sending the first valentine in 1415. Captured at the battle of Agincourt by the English, 21-year old Charles found himself in the Tower of London. There he wrote to his wife, “My very gentle Valentine God forgives him who has estranged me from you.”
From the large valentines covered in hearts, birds and cupids of the French court, through the Victorian era’s fascination with syrupy and frilly cards, through a brief period in the 1890s when sarcastic verses and crude drawings were popular, valentine cards generally have remained lighthearted and romantic.
Not that cards haven’t been wacky at times. Ferg looked at some 1950 cards that are probably still available somewhere today.
“There’s one,” he said, “that when opened has two cardboard lips leap out on a spring to kiss your startled lady love. (Isn’t that revolting?)”
The messages also caught his eye, especially one that was “faintly suggestive.”
“Wish you’d stop teasin’ and listen to reason, because it’s more pleasin’ to get in some squeezin’.”
What with all the candy hearts and chocolate, the attached simulated jewels and flowers, and valentine cards that sing you a lovers tune, you have to wonder what St. Valentine would think and say if he could only see what he started.
May all of you lovers have a happy, happy day.
Writer Bill Miller is the author of five books, including “History Snoopin’,” a collection of his previous history columns and stories. Reach him at email@example.com.