Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Anna Howard Shaw Day!

I've got a whole bunch of ideas lined up for you guys, but more on those later this week. Today is - you guessed it - Valentine's Day; the day where sweethearts express their love through greetings cards, candy, and flowers!

Nothing like plant genitalia to get you in the mood, am I right? (via)
I figured I'd go the route I've gone for other Holidays and do a retrospective on the history of this "love"-ly day. The feast of St. Valentine was first established by Pope Gelasius I in 469 AD. This feast celebrated only two of many Saints named Valentine; most of whom were persecuted and invariably martyred at the hands of those crazy Pagans: the Romans!

I'm in the mood for looooooove... (via)
Sexy, right? Actually Valentine's Day didn't get its Romantic context until almost a thousand years later in Medieval Europe. The earliest known written link between St. Valentine's Day and Romantic Love is found in the works of Geoffrey Chaucer in the 14th century, when Courtly Love was all the rage.

Porno music not included (via)
Of course, nothing in history is that simple. The true origins of modern Valentine's Day are pretty much unknown to us. I'm sure at least some of you have heard the story of Saint Valentine writing the first Valentine to the blind daughter of his jailer, which apparently made her see again. This has never been historically attested and has probably been attributed to all the different Saints named Valentine in turn.

"In other words, we haven't the foggiest." (via)
Some even speculate that Valentine's Day's romantic connotations were a rediscovery of Ancient Roman and Greek festivals such as Lupercalia, a festival which was supposed to cleanse the City of Rome of evil spirits to promote prosperity in the coming year, and Gamelion, a month set aside by Athenians to honor the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera. However, these pagan festivities had more to do with ritual sacrifice than Romantic Love...

Isn't it romaaaaaaaaaaaaantiiiiiiiic? (via)

Anyway, somewhere in the Middle Ages people made up an excuse to send each other love letters because, really, what else was there to do in Medieval Europe? Also, considering the little Ice Age that gripped the Western World, February would have been the point in winter where the cabin (or 'castle') fever would have been too much to bear and people would have seriously needed an excuse to take off their clothes. So, that's how it all got started (kind of). The earliest surviving modern 'Valentine' was written by Charles, Duke of Orleans during his captivity in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt. You can read it here.

He's got on his "do-me" robes. (via)
As time passed and industry grew, people began taking advantage of this holiday to sell pre-made Valentines to the Western public. It really picked up here in the United States and in England around the turn of the 19th Century - and paved the way for the commercialization of other holidays. Many entrepreneurs found success in the Valentine business, including Esther Howland:

"Wedding now are all the go,
will you marry me or no?" (via)
The 20th century brought mass-produced cards known as "mechanical Valentines" and with the rise of advertising in post-war America, the typical Valentine's Day shopping list expanded to include candy, toys, flowers, eventually jewelry. Today it is estimated that around one billion Valentine's Day cards are exchanged every year, with teachers receiving the most.

Next Year? Your SOUL. (via)
Of course, no Holiday this commercialized could go without its critics. Vinegar Valentines - generally mean-spirited insult cards - have been around as long as people have been able to buy regular Valentines. In probably the most famous instance of Vinegar Valentines, Calvin of "Calvin and Hobbes" regularly sends these to Susie in order to hide his true feelings from her:

Others still choose to ignore the holiday altogether:

However you choose to celebrate this day (be it a ritual sacrifice, vinegar valentine, or oral surgery) a very happy Valentine's Day to you and yours.

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