Valentine’s Day is believed to have had its beginnings in a Roman festival called the Lupercalia. The early Roman men often wore the names of the girls who were to be their partners during the Lupercalia pinned to their sleeves. Even today we say that a man wears his heart upon his sleeve when he shows his interest in a young lady. Sometimes the couple exchanged presents. Ladies often received perfumed gloves or fine jewels. After the Lupercalia became a saint’s day honoring Saint Valentine, some of the old customs were kept. It remained an important time for anyone looking for a mate. In the 17th century a hopeful maiden ate a hard-boiled egg and pinned five bay leaves to her pillow before going to sleep on Valentine’s eve. She believed this would make her dream of her future husband.
Later, people began to exchange valentine cards instead of presents. the Duke of Orleans is believed to have made the first valentine card. Imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415, he wrote love poems, or “valentines,” to his wife in France. Sweethearts exchanged handmade cards during the 17th and 18th centuries. The French trimmed huge paper hearts with yards of real lace.
Valentine cards became popular in the United States during the Civil War. Elaborate cards trimmed with satin ribbons, mother-of-pearl ornaments, and spun glass were sold. Within a few years Valentine’s Day received almost as much attention as Christmas.
Today’s valentine cards are simpler. Children often exchange them with their schoolmates. They can easily be bought in stores, but it is good fun and a pleasant pastime to make them yourself.
Written by: Natalie Fantony, Dennison Company