Valentine`s Day started in the time of the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honor Juno. Juno was the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also knew her as the Goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia.

The lives of young boys and girls were strictly separate. However, one of the customs of the young people was name drawing. On the eve of the festival of Lupercalia the names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars. Each young man would draw a girl`s name from the jar and would then be partners for the duration of the festival with the girl whom he chose. Sometimes the pairing of the children lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and would later marry.

Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius the Cruel was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. He believed that the reason was that roman men did not want to leave their loves or families. As a result, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome. The good Saint Valentine was a priest at Rome in the days of Claudius II. He and Saint Marius aided the Christian martyrs and secretly married couples, and for this kind deed Saint Valentine was apprehended and dragged before the Prefect of Rome, who condemned him to be beaten to death with clubs and to have his head cut off. He suffered martyrdom on the 14th day of February, about the year 270. At that time it was the custom in Rome, a very ancient custom, indeed, to celebrate in the month of February the Lupercalia, feasts in honor of a heathen god. On these occasions, amidst a variety of pagan ceremonies, the names of young women were placed in a box, from which they were drawn by the men as chance directed.

The pastors of the early Christian Church in Rome endeavored to do away with the pagan element in these feasts by substituting the names of saints for those of maidens. And as the Lupercalia began about the middle of February, the pastors appear to have chosen Saint Valentine`s Day for the celebration of this new feast. So it seems that the custom of young men choosing maidens for valentines, or saints as patrons for the coming year, arose in this way.

People in England probably celebrated Valentine`s Day as early as the 1400`s. Some historians trace the custom of sending verses on Valentine`s Day to a Frenchman named Charles, Duke of Orleans. Charles was captured by the English during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He was taken to England and put in prison. On Valentine`s Day, he sent his wife a rhymed love letter from his cell in the Tower of London.

One of the oldest customs was the practice of writing women`s names on slips of paper and drawing them from a jar. The woman whose name was drawn by a man became his valentine, and he paid special attention to her. Many men gave gifts to their valentines. In some areas, a young man gave his valentine a pair of gloves. Wealthy men gave fancy balls to honor their valentines.

One description of Valentine`s Day during the 1700`s tells how groups of friends met to draw names. For several days, each man wore his valentine`s name on his sleeve. The saying wearing his heart on his sleeve probably came from this practice.

The custom of sending romantic messages gradually replaced that of giving gifts. In the 1700`s and 1800`s, many stores sold handbooks called valentine writers. These books included verses to copy and various suggestions about writing valentines.

Commercial valentines were first made in the early 1800`s. Many of them were blank inside, with space for the sender to write a message. The British artist Kate Greenaway became famous for her valentines in the late 1800`s. Many of her cards featured charming pictures of happy children and lovely gardens.

Esther A. Howland, of Worcester, Massachusetts, became one of the first U.S. manufacturers of valentines. In 1847, after seeing a British valentine, she decided to make some of her own. She made samples and took orders from stores. Then she hired a staff of young women and set up an assembly line to produce the cards. One woman glued on paper flowers, another added lace, and another painted leaves. Howland soon expanded her business into a $100,000-a-year enterprise.

Many valentines of the 1800`s were hand painted. Some featured a fat cupid or showed arrows piercing a heart. Many cards had satin, ribbon, or lace trim. Others were decorated with dried flowers, feathers, imitation jewels, mother-of-pearl, sea shells, or tassels. Some cards cost as much as $10.

From the mid-1800`s to the early 1900`s, many people sent comic valentines called penny dreadfuls. These cards sold for a penny and featured such insulting verses as:

  `Tis all in vain your simpering looks,

  You never can incline,

  With all your bustles, stays, and curls,

  To find a valentine.

Many penny dreadfuls and other old valentines have become collectors` items.

When the [Civil] war ended, and Americans crept into the light of Reconstruction, they found a freshly industrialized nation. Along with it came a transcontinental railroad, typewriters, an internal combustion engine, and — most importantly for Valentine’s Day — heart-shaped boxes full of  commercial chocolates (a gimmick invented by the Cadbury brothers during the  1860s). Although fine diamonds and jewelry never quite became the norm among Americans, the standard “recipe” of cards, flowers, and a heart-shaped  box of chocolates had been carved in the national psyche. Now Valentine’s  Day is only second to Christmas in number of cards bought and sent.

[multiple sources]

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