Be Mine, Oh Valentine…
In the UK around £1.3 billion is spent yearly on cards, flowers, chocolates and gifts, with an estimated 25 million cards being sent, and while the origins of Valentine’s Day may be misted by time, the tradition of sending a card to your Valentine is just a few centuries old
Valentine greetings have been popular since the Middle Ages, a time when prospective lovers said or sang romantic verses to the lady of their dreams. It is thought that it was Chaucer who first created the link between St. Valentine’s Day and romantic love, in his poem dedicated to the engagement of Richard II to Anne of Bohemia in 1382, as there is no record of any such tradition prior to this.
The first written Valentine is traditionally attributed to the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans, in 1415. While confined in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt, the young Duke passed his time by writing romantic poems for his wife in France. Held captive for 25 years, he makes melancholy reflections on the happiness of lovers on St. Valentine’s Day, contrasted with his own lonely, solitary state.
By the 16th Century, written Valentines were commonplace and by the 17th Century, it was a widespread tradition in for friends and sweethearts to exchange gifts and notes on 14 February.
In 1797, a British publisher issued The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, which contained suggested sentimental verses for the young lover unable to compose his own. Printers had already begun producing a limited number of cards with verses and sketches, and a reduction in postal rates in the next century brought in the practice of sending Valentines anonymously.
Paper Valentines became so popular in England in the early 19th century (the height of Victorian romanticism) that they were assembled in factories. As printing facilities developed, so the volume of commercial cards for sale increased, and the cost of purchase decreased, opening up the market for everybody with a few pence to spare to pledge their love.
The rise of internet usage at the start of the 21st Century has created new traditions. Millions of people use, every year, digital means of creating and sending Valentine’s Day greeting messages such as e-cards, or printable greeting cards. About180 million Valentines were sent worldwide in 2016.
But of course, with increasing ease comes a serious reduction in effort! What message does an e-card send? Let’s face it, it’s not even the equivalent of petrol station flowers, as he hasn’t even had to get out of his car to send a card via the internet.
Has the romance gone along with the flowers and lace of the delicate and time-consuming Victorian hand-made cards? Has the commercialisation of this once innocent celebration of romantic love taken from us the true joy of the occasion? Maybe – but as long as we can say ‘I love you’, I think we’re safe.