Every year around this time, candy, flowers, cards, poems, and gifts are exchanged between friends and loved ones, all in the name of Saint Valentine. Who was Valentine, anyway?
It is believed that the original Saint Valentine was a priest living at the time of Emperor Claudius II, during the third century in Rome. The Emperor decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and children, because they wouldn't desert the army to stay with their families. So he outlawed marriage for young, single men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, continued to marry young men and their sweethearts in secret. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
According to the popular legend, Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" greeting himself. While in prison, a young girl who may have been the jailor's daughter visited Valentine during his confinement. Before being beheaded on the 14th of February, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, signed "From your Valentine," an expression that has lasted through the centuries.
Although the truth behind the Valentine legend is vague, the story certainly emphasizes his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, a romantic figure. It's no surprise then, that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most beloved saints in England and France. The day that was named in his honor has become one of the most popular unofficial holidays.
The first valentines were made as far back as the 1400's. By the 18th century, it had become a custom for valentine cards to be given instead of valentine gifts. Elaborate valentines were fashioned by hand using fine papers, watercolors, colored inks, and real lace, satin, and ribbon. Some valentines had honeycomb pop-outs, pull-tabs for moving figures, or various other three-dimensional features. These valentines also featured sentimental or romantic greetings. Valentine writers made booklets with assorted verses and messages to copy.
Eventually, valentines began to be mass-produced. Commercial valentines appeared circa 1800 and were rather simplistic compared to the handcrafted ones. Early manufactured valentines had black and white pictures painted by factory workers. Paper lace was introduced later in the 1800's. By the end of the 1800's, valentines were being made entirely by machine.
In America, Valentine's Day did not become a tradition until around the time of the Civil War (1861-65). Miss Esther Howland is given credit for creating the first commercial valentines in the United States. She got the idea from her father, a stationer in Worcester, MA, who had been importing valentines from England.
Valentine's Day has since become very commercialized. Valentine cards ranging from sentimental to sophisticated to humorous are marketed on an enormous scale today. There are valentines for everyone - sweetheart, spouse, children, parents, friends, teachers, and even pets! In terms of the number of greeting cards sent, Valentine's Day ranks second only to Christmas, as children all over the country exchange valentine cards at school.
Acrostic Valentines - the first letters of each line in a verse spell out a person's name.
Cut-out Valentines - the paper is folded several times, then cut into a lace-like design with small, sharp, pointed scissors (like making paper snowflakes).
Fraktur Valentines - ornamental lettering is drawn in style of medieval illuminated manuscripts.
Pinprick Valentines - tiny holes poked in the paper with a pin or needle create the look of lace.
Puzzle Purse Valentines - a folded puzzle to read and refold; between the folds are verses to be read in a certain order.
Rebus Valentines - tiny pictures take the place of certain words (for example, a picture of an eye for the word "I").
Theorem or Poonah Valentines - designs are painted through a stencil cut in oil paper, a style that came from the Orient.
Fold construction paper in half or quarters to make cards. Trim to fit the size of the envelopes you will use. Decorate them with lacy paper doilies, ribbons, glitter, pressed flowers, stickers, heart shapes cut out of colored paper, and designs cut out of fancy gift-wrapping papers. Try creating some of the different valentine kinds listed above. Your homemade cards can be as simple or as elaborate as you like, but remember that valentines intended to be mailed must be relatively flat.
Valentines often contain hidden meanings. An everyday object glued or taped to your card can help say something that's difficult to put into words. See if your valentine can figure out the meaning behind your secret code. Here are some examples:
A piece of candy = "I think you're sweet."
A ribbon = "My heart is tied to you."
A fan = "Open your heart to me."
Pine needles = "I pine for you."
A safety pin = "I'm stuck on you."
A key = "You hold the key to my heart."
A paper or cardboard heart cut into several pieces and put in an envelope = "I'm broken-hearted."
Colors and flowers can also be used as coded messages. Blue periwinkle is for friendship. Red roses and red tulips symbolize love. Yellow tulips signify hopeless love. Yellow roses imply jealousy. Rosemary means remembrance. Strawberries represent friendship and forgiveness.
Vintage Valentines, by Golden Books. (This special collection of vintage-style press-out cards and envelopes will conjure up memories of doilies, glitter, and shoeboxes full of homemade valentines!)
Hearts, Cupids, and Red Roses: The Story of the Valentine Symbols, by Edna Barth, 2001. (Describes the traditions of St. Valentine's Day from pagan festivals to present-day activities; includes an annotated list of holiday stories and poems.)
It's Valentine's Day!, by Jack Prelutsky, 1983. (Fourteen funny Valentine poems for young readers.)
The Legend of the Valentine: An Inspirational Story of Love and Reconciliation, by Katherine Grace Bond, 2002. (Marcus, a nine-year-old African-American boy living in Alabama in the sixties, learns the true meaning of valentines as he is faced with whether or not to forgive his classmates and others who have hurt him and his family.)
How to Be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them, by Laurie Krasny Brown and Marc Brown, 1998. (This picture book offers kids practical suggestions about resolving arguments, getting over being shy, handling bossy children, bullies, and more.)
The Berenstain Bears and the Trouble With Friends, by Stan and Jan Berenstain, 1986. (Sister Bear becomes friends with Lizzy, a new bear who moves in next door. They learn that sometimes friends have fights, but that a friend is good to have despite their differences.)
Did You Know...?
February 11 is Make a New Friend Day, February 12 is Kindness Awareness Day, and February 14 is Valentine's Day!
Valentine Gospel Tract
This year how about handing your friends, colleagues, and neighbors a Valentine greeting that lets them know how much God loves them! I've created a Valentine gospel tract for you to download. It's actually two pages that you can print double-sided and fold over so that the recipient can open it up and read the message inside. The main text also works as a stand-alone Valentine handout if you'd rather just print that page only. It can be printed in color on white paper, or print it in black-and-white on pink paper. Make as many copies as you wish!
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