The fourteenth of February will soon be here. A day for roses, chocolate, flowery greetings and a whole lot amour. A little research shows that it was all because a valiant Bishop by the name of Valentinus bucked the Emperor Claudius’ edict that soldiers were not to marry. Apparently this dastardly ruler felt that too much lovemaking and such would weaken his army’s ability to fight his many enemies. Well, Valentinus thought the whole thing was hogwash, and married many a couple in secret. He was subsequently arrested, jailed and executed on February 14th. Prior to his death, he sent a love note to his jailer’s daughter that closed with “from your Valentine.” Hence, the start of a romantic holiday.
During the Middle Ages, hopeful suitors drew names for their sweetheart of the day, and pinned the notes on their sleeves, awaiting the chance to win their affection. Hence, the term “wearing your heart on your sleeve.” Later, during Victorian times, it was bad luck to sign your valentine, making guess work part of the mystery.
In 1537, King Henry VII made February 14th an official holiday. Coincidentally, Henry ended the War of the Roses. Which are also popular gifts for this day. So popular that over 189,000,000 are purchased for sweethearts. The red rose was the favorite of Venus, the Roman Goddess of love. She and her lover, Mars, created Cupid, the arrow wielding cherub who is often depicted on valentines. Be careful with your color choice, however. While red indicates love and passion, pink signifies a wish to be sweethearts and yellow signals “let’s just be friends.” Choose wisely to avoid sending the wrong message.
Candy is another Valentine’s Day offering. It’s a billion dollar business, with over 35,000,000 heart shaped boxes of chocolates purchased for the day. Englishman (and Quaker), Richard Cadbury produced the first box of valentine chocolates in the late 1800’s, before he made his famous eggs. Some say his business was prompted by the advice from doctors at this time, who prescribed chocolate to cure love sickness and melancholy. Even Casanova favored chocolate, claiming it was a powerful aphrodisiac. Today, over 40,000 people are employed in US chocolate factories. And, the episode of Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate wrapping assembly line is rated as one of the most viewed sit coms ever.
But it’s not always about the chocolate. At the same time Cadbury was churning out his famous confections, Necco, Inc. was creating its own candy hearts here in the US. Producing eight billion a year, with the original 45 sayings, bags of these delights are found in most candy jars in America. It’s been estimated that if you line up a year’s worth of these colored candies, they would stretch from Arizona to Rome, and back again. And, with a shelf life of five years, they could keep love alive (and dentists busy) for many years to come.
Which brings us full circle to Bishop Valentinus’ message of love. Valentine’s Day is second only to Christmas in money spent on paper greetings. One billion cards are purchased each season, pleasing the recipient and the US postal service. The first patent for the valentine was given to a woman, Esther Howland, in 1844. Eventually, earning over $100,000 annually, she became one of the very few female entrepreneurs of the time. Most of her original employees were women, who worked from home, and were paid “liberally” for the times. Known as the “Mother of the American Valentine” her cards were fanciful and often contained intricate designs. Sadly, in spite of her amazing works, she never found true love and marriage.
Hallmark came later, in 1913. The Hall brothers denied rumors that they invented Valentine’s Day as a way to increase their sales, always giving credit to Ms. Howland, and of course the infamous Bishop’s disrespect for Emporer Claudius. However, their company sells over 145,000,000 of the 150,000,000 valentines sold each year, making them the biggest producer of such love notes in the country. Procrastinating lovers need not worry. Fifty percent of all valentines are purchased with in the six days prior to February 14th. And then, of course, there are the next-day, half-off sales…
The Victorian era of secrecy didn’t last long and the majority of valentines are signed. It’s believed that the X in XOXO, which stands for “kiss” came about in an age when most of the lower class were illiterate. People signed documents with and X, and then kissed their mark to show their sincerity, and respect for the Christian Cross. The O is believed to come from the Jewish custom of signing an O, rather than the sign of the cross, for the same reason. Others believe that the O appears to reflect an image of two people hugging. In any event, “hugs and kisses” is a popular greeting year round.
Responding to a valentine is not always possible. Consider the city of Verona, Italy, the home of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. This town receives over 1,000 valentines every year, each addressed to Juliet. To date, neither she, nor Romeo have cared to respond.
A few other bits of valentine trivia to contemplate:
- Teachers get the most valentines, followed by children, mothers, wives and pets,
- the average number of wedding proposals on this day? 220,000,
- the average number of weddings on this day? 6,000 (mainly in Nevada),
- groundhog day was originally celebrated on February 14th,
- both Bell’s patent for the telephone and Fleming’s for penicillin were introduced on this day,
- valentines and anything red are banned in Saudi Arabia,
- John Barrymore, Jack Benny, Hugh Downs, Frederick Douglass, Jimmy Hoffa (where is he?) and Florence Henderson were all born on valentine’s day,
- the League of Women Voters was created on this day in 1920, and
- Richard Nixon ordered the infamous wire tapping of Democratic headquarters on February 14, 1971.
Share the love my friends. And remember, chocolate is good for the soul…Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.