heart is the most common symbol of romantic love. Ancient cultures believed
the human soul lived in the heart. Others thought it to be the source of
emotions and intelligence. Some believed the heart embodied a man's truth,
strength and nobility. The heart may be associated with love because the
ancient Greeks believed it was the target of Eros, known as cupid to the
Romans. Anyone shot in the heart by one of Cupid's arrows would fall hopelessly
in love. Because the heart is so closely linked to love, it's red color
is thought to be the most romantic.
messenger took the form of a mischievous little sprite named Eros. (In
Roman mythology, Eros is referred to as Cupid.) His greatest pleasure was
to make gods and humans alike to fall in love, which he accomplished by
piercing their hearts with one of his gold-tipped arrows. Literature is
filled with lovers struck by Cupid's darts--and those trying to escape
them! It's said that Cupid caused the god Apollo to fall for the nymph
Daphne, whose father turned her into a bay tree in order to protect her
from the god's advances.
Day is thought to have evolved from a spring holiday celebrated in the
days of ancient Rome. The feast of Lupercalia was actually celebrated on
February 15 and honored the god Lupercus, who protected the people and
their herds from wolves. On this day, dances were held for all the single
young men and women. A man would draw his partner's name from a piece of
papyrus placed in a bowl. The man not only danced with his partner but
was also obligated to protect her throughout the new year, which began
in March. In many cases, the partners became sweethearts and were soon
married. When the tradition of these dances was later revived in the Middle
Ages, a man would wear his sweetheart's name on his sleeve. Even today
we refer to someone quick to show feeling as "wearing his heart on his
Day most likely received its name and date from Valentinus, a Roman priest
who was beheaded on February 14 in the third century A.D. At that time,
Emperor Claudius II banned all weddings and engagements, believing that
newly married men made poor Roman soldiers. Valentinus defied the emperor
by performing secret marriages and has since been regarded as the patron
saint of all lovers. Many of the rites and practices of the earlier Lupercalia
were probably attached to St. Valentine's Day when the church desired to
shift the focus from pagan to Christian holidays.
Another Roman legend of Saint
Valentine emphasizes his love for children. The priest often told them
stories and made them small bouquets from the flowers in his garden.When
he was imprisoned for refusing to worship pagan gods, the children made
bouquets of their own, adorning them with love notes and tossing them through
the prison bars. Then Valentine prayed for a miracle, hoping that God would
restore the sight of the jailer's blind daughter. The Emperor Claudius
became enraged when the miracle occurred and both the jailer and his daughter
converted to Christianity. Condemned to die, the priest sent the young
girl a farewell message signed simply, "from your Valentine."
Over time, love notes sent
to sweethearts on February 14 became known as valentines--as did those
who sent them.Like
the fresh bouquets fashioned by the saint, anything symbolizing sweetness
and beauty became an appropriate gift--making candy and flowers traditional
favorites to this day.
valentines differed from those of today in that most were printed without
messages, leaving the eighteenth-century lover to pen his own sentiment.
Since the occasion would render all but the practicing poet speechless,
professionals soon published "Valentine Writers" to help untangle the tongues
of the lovelorn. These inexpensive books offered lovers flowery verses,
disarming prose, or simple questions to which the intended could reply.
Messages were written on behalf of men or women, the young or the old,
even those in various professions.
A wealthy Elizabethan lover
could afford to hire a writer to craft a personal verse, or pay a songster
to compose special lyrics to popular tunes of the day. A songster would
even deliver the lover's message, filling the streets and alleys with romantic
serenades on Valentine's Day.
Paper valentines became popular in the eighteenth century. Before commercial printers created the colorful heirlooms we now have from Victorian times, people created their own valentines from paper scraps. American colonist spent cold winter nights making paper cutouts featuring knot patterns and interlocking hearts. Special verses were written inside the interlocking paths of these "love knots." Since the verse had no precise beginning or end, the recipient could begin reading the message starting at any line.
The early nineteenth-century
woman might trace the outline of her hand, than add a paper heart in the
center as a symbol of her affection for the recipient. This may suggest
the origin of the heart-in-hand motif that is still a popular folk art
Many girls of that same period
made watch papers for their sweethearts. Cut from pretty paper, silk or
satin, these small circles replaced the ordinary papers that kept the dust
out of pocket watches. The circles were painted or embroidered with hearts,
the lovers' initials, or a special motto and became popular Valentine's
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