Love is in the air! Can you feel it? Every February 14, Valentine’s Day rolls around and we find ourselves caught up in the excitement of candy, flowers, cards and hearts of red, white and pink.
So who is your valentine this year? If you’re like most kids, you probably have lots of them. Parents, sisters and brothers, aunts and uncles, neighbors, teachers and all sorts of friends at school — they can all be your valentines!
Saint Valentine’s Day — usually shortened to simply Valentine’s Day — is a yearly celebration of love and affection. The holiday was named after one or more early Christian saints named Valentine or Valentinus.
The history of Valentine’s Day is somewhat mysterious and uncertain. As the holiday developed over hundreds of years, its celebration evolved out of a mixture of Christian tradition, ancient Roman rituals and the customs of Victorian England.
One of the traditions most children look forward to today involves the sending of messages to loved ones, usually in the form of small greeting cards commonly called “valentines.” The history of these brief messages of love is as mysterious as the holiday itself.
One legend holds that an early Christian saint named Valentine sent the first “valentine” message. While imprisoned, Valentine fell in love with the jailor’s daughter, who would visit him often. Before his death, he wrote her a love letter, which he signed “From your Valentine.”
As far back as the Middle Ages, valentine messages were popular. Way back then, though, most messages were spoken — or sung — in person. Written valentines didn’t become popular until the early 15th century.
The oldest valentine still in existence is from 1415. It is a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after he was captured at the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years’ War. Charles’ valentine is part of the British Library’s collection of old manuscripts in London, England.
Over the next few hundred years, written valentine notes grew more popular as Valentine’s Day grew in popularity throughout Europe. By the early 1800s, handwritten notes began to be replaced by mass-produced greeting cards made in factories.
As early as the 1840s, Esther A. Howland — known as the “Mother of the Valentine” — began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in the United States. She was also known for making fancy valentines featuring real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures.
Today, valentines are still big business. Americans exchange more cards on Valentine’s Day than at any other time of year except for Christmas. The Greeting Card Association estimates that over one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year!