A LITTLE VALENTINES DAY HISTORY LESSON

When deciding on the right Valentine’s Day gift for a friend or loved one, it helps to know a little background on the occasion. That being said, here is a tidbit of Valentine’ Day history that you might not have known.



Using the language of the law courts for the rituals of courtly love, a “High Court of Love” was established in Paris on Valentine’s Day in 1400. The court dealt with love contracts, betrayals, and violence against women. Judges were selected by women on the basis of a poetry reading.



The earliest surviving valentine is a fifteenth-century rondeau written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his “valentined” wife, which commences.



Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…
(Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2)



At the time, the duke was being held in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt, 1415.



Valentine’s Day is mentioned ruefully by Ophelia in Hamlet (1600-01): “Tomorrow is Saint Valentine’s Day.”



In 1836, relics of St. Valentine of Rome were donated by Pope Gregory XVI to the Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland. In the 1960s, the church was renovated and relics restored to prominence. In American culture,Saint Valentine’s Day was remade in the 1840s; as a writer in GFTraham’s American Monthly observed in 1849, “Saint Valentine’s Day… is becoming,nay it has become, a national holyday.”



In the 1969 revision of the Roman Catholic Calendar of Saints, the feastday of Saint Valentine on 14 February was removed from the General Roman Calendar and relegated to particular (local or even national) calendars for the following reason: “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, it is left to particular calendars, since, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on 14 February.” The feast day is still celebrated in Balzan and in Malta where relics of the saint are claimed to be found, and also throughout the world by Traditionalist Catholics who follow the older, pre-Vatican II calendar.



The reinvention of Saint Valentine’s Day in the 1840s has been traced by Leigh Eric Schmidt. In the United States, the first mass-produced valentines of embossed paper lace were produced and sold shortly after 1847 by Esther Howland (1828-1904) of Worcester, Massachusetts. Her father operated a large book and stationery store, and she took her inspiration from an English valentine she had received. Since 2001, the Greeting Card Association has been giving an annual “Esther Howland Award for a Greeting Card Visionary.”



In the second half of the twentieth century, the practice of exchanging cards was extended to all manner of gifts in the United States, usually from a man to a woman. Such gifts typically include roses and chocolates. In the 1980s, the diamond industry began to promote Valentine’s Day as an occasion for giving jewelry.



The day has come to be associated with a generic platonic greeting of “Happy Valentine’s Day.” As a joke, Valentine’s Day is also referred to as “Singles Awareness Day.”


In some North American elementary schools, students are asked to give a Valentine card or small gift to everyone in the class. The greeting cards of these students often mention what they appreciate about each other.

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