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The first Valentine |
The original Valentine is said to have been a young Christian bishop.
According to legend he incurred the displeasure of the Roman Emperor Claudius II, who was also known as Claudius the Cruel. The Emperor had outlawed marriage because Roman men had been refusing to go to war in order to stay at home with their wives. Valentine had continued to perform marriage ceremonies in secret and, because of this, had been thrown into prison. There he fell in love with the jailor’s blind daughter, whom he miraculously cured. On the night before his execution he sent a letter to the young girl and signed it “from your Valentine”. He was beheaded the following day, February 14th.
Origins of the festival
The ancient Romans celebrated February 14th because it was the Feast of Lupercalia, a rite connected with fertility. It was held in honour of Juno, the queen of Roman gods, who was also the goddess of women and marriage. The Romans introduced this pagan festival into England but when they left, it was abolished by the Christians. However, in its place, Pope Gelsius established St Valentine’s Day, as a celebration of love, in 496 A.D. Still it wasn't until 1537 that King Henry VIII declared St. Valentine's Day an official holiday.
Valentine’s Day Cards
The oldest known Valentine card was sent in 1415. Charles, the Duke of Orleans, was imprisoned in the Tower of London and he sent the card to his French wife. It can still be seen in British Museum in London.
Valentine’s Day is only mentioned occasionally over the next three hundred odd years; it crops up in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, for example, when Ophelia laments:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine's day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine
An interesting phenomenon surrounds another of Shakespeare’s plays. Every Valentine’s Day the Italian city of Verona, where Romeo and Juliet supposedly lived, receives about one thousand letters addressed to Juliet. Yet another of the bard’s plays, “The Merchant of Venice” has given posterity the famous line: “Love is blind, and lovers cannot see”.
In 19th century things livened up for Valentine’s Day, as publishers started churning out sentimental verses for young lovers, who were unable to think up their own. The Victorians thought it was bad luck to sign a Valentine card and people took advantage of this anonymity to send suggestive and racy messages. The advent of the postal service had made it easy to mail Valentines but several countries started banning them. In the late 1800s Chicago’s post office rejected more than 25,000 cards on the grounds that they were too indecent to be carried through the US mail.
These days the American Greeting card association estimates 190 million Valentines are sent each year in the United States. One card company alone produces 1,330 different Valentine Day designs. Once you include Valentines made in schools this figure increases to one billion! In fact it is teachers who receive the most Valentines, followed by children, mothers, wives and then, sweethearts.
The internet has meant the advent of a new tradition of sending e-valentines and about 15 million were sent last year.In the UK the figures are naturally more modest. However it is an interesting fact that of the sixteen million Valentine cards sent in Britain each year, only 39% are sent by women.
Naturally February 14th is a good day for florists and approximately 350,000 bunches of flowers are sent in Britain on this day. If you are considering sending a bunch, a mixture of red and white roses is recommended. The red rose is the flower of love and the white rose symbolises innocence and purity; together they mean unity and togetherness. They send the message, “May we always be together as one”.
St Valentine’s Day Massacre
On February 14th 1929 seven people were murdered in Chicago as part of the prohibition era gang warfare that centered on the illegal trafficking of alcohol. The South side Italian gang, led by Al Capone, lured members of the North side Irish gang to a garage and killed them. Possibly the attraction was cut price bootleg whiskey but this isn’t certain. However, even though the North side gang was crippled by this massacre their leader, Bugs Moran, escaped. The Capone gang also suffered because police pressure increased and they found it more difficult to engage in their criminal activities.
Al Capone was finally sentenced to prison for tax evasion in 1932. Once prohibition ended in 1933 Bugs Moran’s days as a top gangster were over and he spent the remainder of his life in and out of prison. He died in 1957 of lung cancer.
The massacre has been used in numerous films, including “Some Like It Hot”, which was made in 1959 and starred Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon.
Cupid is an icon commonly associated with Valentine’s Day. He was the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty, and is often depicted with wings, a bow and a quiver of arrows. The Greeks believed the heart was the target of Eros, known as Cupid to the Romans. Anyone shot in the heart by his magic arrows would fall hopelessly in love. Because the heart is so closely linked to love, its red colour is thought to be the most romantic.