Approximately 150 million cards are exchanged annually for Valentine’s Day, second only to Christmas (an estimated 2.6 billion). Despite the claims of men, Valentine’s Day was not an invention of Hallmark to sell more greeting cards. Nor was it the brainchild of some florist or chocolatier looking to increase profits; although, all three have certainly seized at the opportunity.
Valentine’s Day has its roots in a pagan festival. Some believe St Valentine’s Feast was held in mid-February to coincide with the anniversary of the saint’s death or burial thought to have occurred in A.D. 270, while others claim it was the decision of the Church in an attempt to Christianize the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to Fauna, the Roman god of agriculture, and to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius officially declared Lupercalia to be unchristian and named February 14th St. Valentine’s Day. It would not be until much later that the holiday would be definitively thought of as a celebration of love and romance.
Valentine greetings date back as far as the Middle Ages, but it wasn’t until after 1400 that the written greeting appeared. The oldest Valentine still in existence is a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. It is believed that several years later King Henry V hired writer John Lydgate to compose a valentine for Catherine of Valois. By 1900 pre-printed cards began to replace the traditional hand-written note.
Today our Valentine greeting is about much more than a simple greeting card. One of the most popular Valentine’s gifts is flowers. We all recognize roses as the traditional Valentine’s Day flower, but did you know that the color of the rose is as important as the gesture itself? Red roses mean love, longing or desire. The number of red roses given also holds special meaning. Twelve red roses means “Be mine” and “I love you.” White roses mean purity, chastity and innocence. Yellow roses express exuberance, sunny feelings of joy, warmth and welcome. They symbolize friendship and caring. Pink roses express gentle emotions such as admiration, joy and gratitude, also elegance and grace. Light pink mean sweetness and innocence. Orange roses signify passion and energy, intense desire, pride and fervor, even a sense of fascination. Lavender roses are the color of enchantment, love at first sight. Darker shades closer to purple invoke a sense of regal majesty and splendor, express fascination and adoration. Blue roses do not occur naturally, thus representing the unattainable or mysterious. Green roses are the color of harmony, opulence, fertility. They are the color of peace and tranquility. Black roses, the color of death and farewell, the death of a feeling or idea. A mixed bouquet represents a mix of emotions, depending on the colors chosen. It could mean “I love you and my intentions are honorable”, “I love you even though I know you can never be mine”, or even “I don’t know how I feel but care enough to send you these roses”.
Next week we continue our journey into Valentine’s Day traditions with “Candy Hearts and Chocolate”.