28. Englishman Geoffrey Chaucer was the first poet to mention Valentine’s Day, way back in 1375
Some 40 years before the Duke of Orleans mailed the first known Valentine’s Day card in history, the poet Geoffrey Chaucer alluded to the most romantic day of the year. In his 1375 poem Parliament of Foules Chaucer wrote, “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” This was possibly the most romantic thing the English wordsmith ever wrote. His most famous work, The Canterbury Tales, is far less sensitive and shocked readers with its lewdness and allusions to sex and prostitution.
27. The poems of the English writer Chaucer gave us the expression ‘lovebirds’
It was also Chaucer who we have to thank for linking ‘lovebirds’ with Valentine’s Day. The English poet wrote widely on the idea of love and spirituality. In one of his most famous works, he mused on the things humans can learn from birds, including the way they stick together. According to some literary historians, Chaucer was the first English-language writer to speak of lovebirds. Up until that point, they had mainly been kept as pets by the aristocracy, but thanks to Chaucer, they are now forever associated with love and romance.
26. In the ancient Greek myths, Cupid was athletic – and could bring hate as well as love
The Renaissance saw the reinvention of Cupid and gave us the icon of romance we know today Back in Ancient Rome, Cupid – who was, according to the mythology, the son of Venus, goddess of love – was an athletic young man. It was only during the Renaissance that artists began depicting him as a portly cherub. What’s more, Cupid also lost his mischievous side. The Romans said that he carried two arrows with him – one to make people fall in love, a second to make them hate each other.
25. Knights would wear a token of their affection on their sleeves before competing in a joust
The Middle Ages might have given us the expression ‘to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve’. According to one legend – quite possibly true – knights would often tie ribbons around their arms whilst competing in jousting tournaments. Sometimes they would attach something of their favorite lady’s to this – perhaps a perfumed handkerchief, for example. This way, it was clear the knight was fighting for her honor – and for her heart.
24. Was Shakespeare actually to thank for lovers ‘wearing their hearts on their sleeves’?
However, some Shakespeare scholars credit the Bard with giving us the expression ‘to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve’. And why not? The playwright made numerous contributions to the English language, including several notable romantic terms. In his 1603 play Othello, Shakespeare has Iago confess to being a traitor. The play’s villain says that by “wearing my heart upon my sleeve”, he is showing his true intentions, and inviting black birds to peck away at him. Over the years, supporters of this argument maintain, the phrase has gained a more romantic meaning.
23. A Swedish King is to thank for our tradition of giving flowers to a loved one on Valentine’s Day
At the end of the 17th century, King Charles XII paid a royal visit to Persia. Whilst there, the monarch was schooled in the ‘language of flowers’ – that is, the Persian tradition of attaching different meanings to certain types of flowers and then using them to send messages. Charles brought this back to Europe. Over the course of the 18th century, lists of different flowers and their meanings were published across Europe – and so, the tradition of giving them as romantic gifts was born.
22. In Greek myth, roses are red because they grow in places where the goddess of love once wept
Red roses had, of course, been linked with romance well before King Charles II of Sweden made flower-giving a Valentine’s Day tradition. The association dates all the way back to Ancient Greece, in fact. In Greek mythology, rose bushes grew in places where Aphrodite’s tears. Or drops of her blood, had fallen. The Romans added to this myth. They adopted Aphrodite, re-imagined her as Venus, and promoted the red rose as a popular symbol of both love and physical beauty.
21. The goddess Aphrodite was often accompanied by doves, and so the birds became a symbol of love
Doves are another Valentine’s Day symbol with a long history attached to them. And again, the story can be traced back to Ancient Greece. Doves were said to the sacred birds of the goddess of love, Aphrodite – and for good reason. The birds are monogamous, staying with the same partners for their whole of the mating season, unlike most other species. As with many Greek myths, the Romans adopted this and, through them, the idea of doves as symbols of love was passed on through Christianity to the present day.
20. According to one old English tradition, putting bay leaves by the window could help a woman dream of her future husband
In England, the Middle Ages saw the birth of a Valentine’s Day eve tradition. Women were said to place 5 bay leaves on their pillow before they went to bed. According to the superstitions of the time, any woman who did this the night before the big day would dream of her future husband. The tradition featured in folk songs and poems of the time. However, it died out towards the end of the Middle Ages, replaced with the romantic traditions of the Renaissance and then by more modern customs.
19. In the Middle Ages, the illiterate masses would sometimes sign their name with an X, and this became an affectionate sign-off
And why do we sign our Valentine’s Day cards (and text messages and emails) with an X? The letter has been used to symbolize a kiss ever since the Middle Ages. Quite why is open to debate. Some historians maintain it’s because an X looks like a cross, and therefore was seen as a symbol of the love of Jesus. However, others argue that it’s simply because back in the Dark Ages, few people were literate, and most couldn’t even write their own name. So, when they needed to sign a document, they would simply put an X at the bottom – and so, a tradition was born.
18. Medieval knights would sometimes wear lace armbands, and the material has been associated with romance ever since
Pretty lace is a popular Valentine’s Day gift the world over these days. The word comes from the Latin ‘lacques‘, which means to ‘capture’ – and originally the gift was given as a play on words when you wanted to ‘capture someone’s heart’. The tradition can also be traced back to the Middle Ages. Again, knights would dedicate jousts to the objects of their affection. Some would wear ribbons around their arms, while others would wear little pieces of lace above their plate armor.
17. Steam-powered printing presses made Valentine’s Day cards affordable to the masses
We have the Industrial Revolution to thank for the mass-produced Valentine’s Day cards many people send today. The arrival of the steam-powered printing press meant that thousands of cards could be produced in an hour, bringing the price down and making them affordable to almost everyone. In the United States, Esther A. Howland became known as the “Mother of the Valentine” when she began selling the country’s first mass-produced cards in America in the 1840s. And then, in 1913, Hallmark Cards, was established and soon became a market leader.
16. Charles Dickens even thought mass-produced card factories were taking the romance out of Valentine’s Day!
It wasn’t just in the United States where Valentine’s Day cards were produced in huge numbers. Charles Dickens commented on the phenomenon, believing that it took some of the romance out of the gesture of giving a card. The English author described how one London card producer earned the nickname ‘Cupid’s Manufactory’. Here, as many as 3,000 women were employed making cards in the build up to the big day. These days, the Laura Seddon Greeting Card Collection at the Manchester Metropolitan University boasts a unique collection of historic Valentine’s cards and other printed romantic gestures, from the touching to the creepy.
15. The Victorians’ idea of romance could be downright weird, as one particularly hairy card shows
The Victorians were big fans of Valentine’s Day cards. But their ideas of romance were a long way from modern ones. Historians of the era have uncovered many downright bizarre romantic gestures. In 2014, the York Castle Museum in the north of England revealed its strangest Valentine’s Day card, with real human hair glued on top of the greeting to resemble a man’s mustache. The quirky attempt at Victorian-era human included a caption that reads: “For The New Woman! With St. Valentine’s Heartiest Greetings and Best Hopes that she will receive another (mustache) – With A Man Attached.”
14. Even the most romantic Victorian lady or gentleman thought it was bad luck to sign a Valentine’s Day card
As we’ve seen, the Duke of Orleans was credited with sending the first Valentine all the way back in 1415. The imprisoned Duke signed his card to his wife, and this continued to be the tradition for many centuries. However, the Victorians believed it was bad luck to sign a Valentine’s Day card, even if it was to your wife or husband. This 19th century English superstition quickly spread around the world, and to this day, millions of anonymous cards are sent each year.
13. ‘Roses are red’ was first published as a poem at the end of the 18th century and has been popular ever since
The very first instance of the cliched Valentine’s Day poem ‘Roses are red’ being used is in an 18th century nursery rhyme. Entitled Gammer Gurton’s Garland, the poem has been reproduced countless times since it first appeared in print back in 1784. While it’s been adapted and tweaked many times over, the original went: “The rose is red, the violet’s blue, The honey’s sweet, and so are you. Thou art my love and I am thine; I drew thee to my Valentine. The lot was cast and then I drew, And Fortune said it should be you.”
12. Victorian gentlemen didn’t have to write their own Valentine’s messages – they could buy a bestselling book full of them
In 1797, an enterprising English publisher saw a business opportunity – penning romantic messages for tongue-tied (or simply illiterate) men. Their book, entitled The Young Man’s Valentine Writer, was an instant bestseller. It contained not only single lines or romantic prose but entire sentimental verses and whole poems. At first, men would have to copy these words of romance out of the guidebook and into a card. Before long, however, factories began producing so-called ‘Mechanical Valentine’s’, or cards with romantic messages already printed inside them.
11. During the American Civil War, sweet ‘cockles’ were popular Valentine gifts
The tradition of giving candy hearts to your Valentine dates back to the American Civil War. However, these sweet treats were much simpler – and probably much healthier too – back then. Back in 1870s America, they were known as ‘cockles’, and for obvious reasons. Made out of crisped candy, they were usually shaped like small cockles and shells. Soldiers would scribble little declarations of love onto tint strips of paper and then affix these onto the cockles. They would then send the finished article to their Valentine, and so yet another tradition was born.
10. A family business invented candies with love messages on them back in 1866
In 1866, the New England Confectionery Company (better known as NECCO) came up with a killer idea. Daniel Chase, whose brother Oliver had set up the company, believed there was a big market for candies with messages printed directly onto them. And he was right. Thanks to their specially-developed candy-making machine, the brothers were able to produce these early love hearts in huge amounts. Finally, in 1902, NECCO launched the Sweethearts brand, and it remains popular to this day, and regularly updates the affectionate messages printed onto the candies.
9. Victorian ladies loved to receive chocolates, especially special romantic boxes from Cadbury
The British also had their own candy hearts. However, chocolate has long been a more popular Valentine’s Day gift here. In 1868, the chocolate giant Cadbury launched their ‘Fancy Boxes’. The boxes were shaped like a heart, nicely decorated and were filled with a variety of chocolatey treats. They were launched in time for Valentine’s Day that year and were an instant hit. So much so, in fact, that the company carried on producing them in huge numbers and giving a Fancy Box to your beloved quickly became a Valentine’s Day tradition for romantic Britons.
8. Valentine’s Day has seen plenty of bloodshed, as well as love and romance, over the centuries
Valentine’s Day hasn’t always been a day or love and romance, however. Indeed, for French Jews, the day is particularly significant – and not for good reasons. Back in 1349, several hundred Jews living in the city of Strasbourg were attacked as part of a Europe-wide pogrom. While the exact number of innocent victims is not known, several hundred were undoubtedly burnt to death, with their fellow citizens watching on. Hundreds more were forcibly expelled from the city and their property divided up among the killers.
7. Captain James Cook was killed on Hawaii on Valentine’s Day while exploring the Pacific
Valentine’s Day of 1779 was also a dark day for the British Empire. It was on this day that one of the country’s most-revered explorers, Captain James Cook, met his end, many thousands of miles from home. While exploring the northern Pacific, Cook was killed by the native people of Hawaii following a quarrel. According to the accounts of his crew, Cook was attacked whilst trying to take a tribe’s king with him onto his ship, the Resolution. At first, he was clubbed in the head and then, when he lay in the surf, he was stabbed repeatedly.
6. In Norfolk, England, ‘Jack Valentine‘ has been loved – and feared – by children for centuries
In the English county of Norfolk, people in the Middle Ages invented the tradition of ‘Jack’ Valentine. According to the local legend, Jack would stalk through villages in the east of the country after dark, though only on the eve of Valentine’s Day. He would leave candies and other sweet treats on the doorsteps of not just women but children as well. And the tradition continues to this day. Curiously, though Jack Valentine brings candies and is said to be completely harmless, children are traditionally supposed to be scared of him.
5. The states of Arizona and Oregon both joined the United States on Valentine’s Day
The people of Arizona and Oregon don’t just celebrated love and romance on 14 February. Some extra-patriotic citizens also celebrate their states’ admission to the United States. Arizona became the 48th member of the United States when it joined on Valentine’s Day in 1912. This meant it was the last of the contiguous states to join, with only Alaska and Hawaii coming after. Oregon joined the union way back on Valentine’s Day of 1859.
4. The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre is still an unsolved crime – was Capone or the cops behind it?
The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre rocked Chicago back in 1929. The massacre was the bloodiest part of a long-standing feud between the Irish North Siders organised crime racket and their Italian South Side rivals, led by the legendary gangster Al Capone. On that infamous morning, a group of assailants ambushed 7 members and associates of the North Side Gang at a Lincoln Park garage. The victims were made to line up against a wall and then mercilessly executed. The perpetrators were never caught. Inevitably, Capone himself was widely blamed for the massacre, However, some have said that the killings were carried out by members of the Chicago Police Department seeking revenge for the murder of the son of a fellow officer.
3. A translating error back in the 1930s means that only women give Valentine’s Day gifts in Japan
When Valentine’s Day was introduced to Japan in 1936 – by a chocolate company, of course – it was embraced as a day for women to treat their loved ones. The meaning of the day was mis-translated and, from then on, it was only loved-up females buying gifts. That tradition continues to this day. To make up for this, a new tradition was also invented: Exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, Japanese men would return the favor, buying the special ladies in their lives chocolates or other romantic gifts.
2. Lovelorn seamen would collect Sailor’s Valentines in the Caribbean in the 19th century – and now they sell for big money
Today, collectors will pay good money for ‘Sailor’s Valentines’. These unique gifts were hugely popular from around 1830 to 1890 but quickly fell out of favor. Adorned with shells and intricately decorates, the small wooden were traditionally picked up for their sweethearts when they went ashore in the Caribbean. Barbados was a particularly popular place for picking up such a trinket. Traditionally, the local women made them from shells imported from Indonesia, selling them only love-struck American sailors for a healthy profit.
1. The Church took Saint Valentine’s Day off its official back in 1969 due to a lack of evidence about his life
In 1969, the Catholic Church removed the Saints Days of 100 saints from its official calendar. In some cases, they removed the days dedicated to men and women whose behavior was, in retrospect, far from saintly. At the same time, the Church also took away the days dedicated to saints whose stories remain unclear. Among those who got the axe from the official Catholic calendar was Saint Valentine. According to the Church authorities, there isn’t enough evidence about his life or work to grant him an official Feast Day.
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