Archive for the ‘Valentine’s Brief’ Category

I began exploring traditions associated with Valentine’s Day and developed those linked to apples as they related to my own childhood.  Twisting the stem of an apple whilst singing boys names, letting the peel fall to reveal a letter, counting the number of seeds and piercing the skin with the stem were my main focus.  I produced five different apple themed books out of paper which used different mechanisms and ways to be read.  I combined ancient Greek golden apple mythology with other decorative valentine traditions including keys and lace.  The final results are delicate but are designed to be handled to reveal the text.

Valentine Apples


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The main focus of this brief was to research the origins of St Valentine’s Day.  There are a number of St Valentines that the day could be representative of but the general belief is that it is Valentine of Rome that lead to the current celebration.

Since Rome was at the time involved in many bloody and unpopular campaigns, the emperor found it difficult to recruit the male populace into joining his military leagues. Believing this to be because Roman men were adverse to leaving their loved ones or their familes, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements within the City of Rome. Saint Valentine and Saint Marius, however, continued to perform wedding ceremonies in secret. When it was discovered that Saint Valentine was defying the emperor’s decree, he was apprehended and dispatched by Claudius to the Prefect of Rome who, being unable to force the saint to renounce Christianity, ordered that Valentine be clubbed, stoned and then beheaded. According to tradition, while Valentine waited in prison for his execution, he corresponded with those under his care by sending letters and love notes to his parishioners. It is also believed that while incarcerated, the Bishop fell in love with a young woman who visited him during his confinement. According to some sources, this was the blind daughter (whose name may have been Julia) of Asterius, the jailer. It is said that God enabled Valentine to miraculously restore the girl’s sight. Popular belief indicates that Valentine’s farewell message to his love contained a closing that has now transcended time: “From Your Valentine.” The saint was executed on February 14 in either 269 A.D. or 270 A.D. In 270 A.D., Pope Julius I is said to have built a church near Ponte Mole in the saint’s memory at a location once known as Porta Valentini and now called Porta del Popolo. The relic bones of this Saint Valentine, who may also have been a physician, are now housed within the Church of Saint Praxed in Rome and at Whitefriar Street Camelite Church in Dublin, Ireland.

This Saint Valentine is said to have been scourged, imprisoned and beheaded by Placidus, Prefect of Interanma. The relic bones of this Saint Valentine are housed in a basilica in Terni, a town in Italy which hails Saint Valentine as its Patron Saint. It is believed that the saint, who lived in the Third Century, dedicated his life to the Christian community of Terni, becoming the first Bishop of the town. Adored by the populace, the fame of Saint Valentine’s holiness and miracles reached Rome, his name being linked with love because, according to legend, he was the first religious personage to oversee the celebration of marriage between a pagan man and a Christian woman. Sentenced to death in Rome, he was martyred on February 14 along the Via Flaminia and swiftly buried in order to prevent rioting by the Christians. It is said that three of Saint Valentine’s disciples managed to find the body, transferring it to Terni, where the remains were interred within a sacred place. The Basilica of Saint Valentino was later erected in the same location to honor the saint and invoke his protection and blessing.

An alternative theory from Belarus states that the holiday originates from the story of Saint Valentine, who upon rejection by his mistress was so heartbroken that he took a knife to his chest and sent her his still-beating heart as a token of his undying love for her. Hence, heart-shaped cards are now sent as a tribute to his overwhelming passion and suffering.

Ancient Rome

Valentine’s Day started in the time of the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, February 14th was a holiday to honour Juno. Juno was the Queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans also knew her as the Goddess of women and marriage. The following day, February 15th, began the Feast of Lupercalia.
The lives of young boys and girls were strictly separate. However, one of the customs of the young people was name drawing. On the eve of the festival of Lupercalia the names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars. Each young man would draw a girl’s name from the jar and would then be partners for the duration of the festival with the girl whom he chose. Sometimes the pairing of the children lasted an entire year, and often, they would fall in love and would later marry.

Medieval period and English Renaissance

Valentine greetings have been popular since the Middle Ages, a time when prospective lovers said or sang their romantic verses. Written valentines began to appear after 1400. Paper valentines originated in the 1500s, being exchanged in Europe and being given in place of valentine gifts and oral or musical valentine greetings. They were particularly popular in England. The origins of the most popular customs associated with Saint Valentine’s Day almost certainly trace their roots to a conventional belief generally accepted in England and France during the Middle Ages that on February 14 (halfway through the second month of the year), the birds began choose their mates. The reason for this assumption is somewhat clouded, but may be related to the fact that the first songbirds which traditionally warble after a blustery winter tend to debut in mid-February. One of the earliest written examples of this belief was penned by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340/45-1400), an English poet and vintner, in his “Parliament of Fowls,” the literal meaning of which is “Meeting of Birds.” Chaucer’s poem was penned to honor the grand wedding of Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in January of 1382.

Valentines Day love is refered to by Michael Drayton (1563-1631), an English poet from Warwickshire, in his poem entitled “To His Valentine” and again by Robert Herrick (1591-1674),

“For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”


“Each little bird this tide
Doth chose her beloved peer,
Which constantly abide
In wedlock all the year.”


“Oft have I heard both youth and virgin say
Birds choose their mates, and couples too, this day;
But by their flight I never can divine,
When I shall couple with my Valentine.”


Thus, February 14 eventually became regarded as a day especially consecrated to lovers and deemed a proper occasion for the writing of romantic letters and the sending of love tokens.

The first written valentine (formerly known as “poetical or amorous addresses”) is traditionally attributed to the imprisoned Charles, Duke of Orleans, in 1415. While confined in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt, the young Duke reportedly passed his time by writing romantic verses for his wife in France. Approximately sixty of the Duke’s poems remain and can be seen among the royal papers in the British Museum. They are credited with being the first modern day valentines.

Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée…

(Charles d’Orléans, Rondeau VI, lines 1–2)

Valentine’s Day is mentioned ruefully by Ophelia in Hamlet (1600-1601):

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
(William Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act IV, Scene 5)

By the Sixteenth Century, written valentines were commonplace and by the Seventeenth Century, it was a widespread tradition in England and other Western countries for friends and sweethearts to exchange gifts and notes on February 14. During the early 1700s, Charles II of Sweden brought the Persian poetical art known as the “language of flowers” to Europe and throughout the Eighteenth Century, floral dictionaries were published, permitting the exchange of romantic secrets via a lily or lilac, for example, culminating in entire conversations taking place within a bouquet of flowers. The more popular the flower, the more traditions and meaning were associated with it. The red rose, for instance, believed to be the favoured flower of Venus, Roman Goddess of Love, became universally accepted to represent romantic love. Thus, the custom of giving red roses on Valentine’s Day quickly gained popularity.

1700s onwards

Sometime after 1723, the popularity of valentine cards in America began to grow with the import from England of valentine “writers.” A “writer” was a booklet comprised of a vast array of verses and messages which could be copied onto gilt-edged paper or other type of decorative sheet. One popular “writer” contained not only “be my valentine” types of verses for the men to send to their sweethearts, but also acceptances or “answers” which the ladies could then return. Late Eighteenth Century and Early Nineteenth Century valentines were often religious in nature and it is possible that the “Sacred Heart” often depicted on these cards eventually became the “Valentine Heart” with the customarily accompanying Angel eventually becoming “Cupid.” It is believed that the earlier versions of these religious valentines may have been made by nuns who would cut-out the paper lace with scissors. It is thought the process probably took many days since the cards had every appearance of being machine-made. One popular style of early American card from 1840 to approximately 1860 was the “Daguerreotype,” a photographic process using old-time tintype in the centre of a card surrounded by an ornamental wreath. Another was the “Mirror Valentine,” which contained a small mirror placed in the centre to reflect the face of the recipient. However, the sending of valentine greetings in America did not become a true tradition until around the time of the Civil War (1861-1865) when valentine cards often depicted sweethearts parting, or a tent with flaps that opened to reveal a soldier. These were known as “windows.” In peace time, the “window” would be a church door opening to reveal a bridge and groom. Another Civil War valentine novelty was for the card to have a place for the sender to include a lock of hair.

The first mass produced cards were produced after 1847 by Esther Howland of Massachusetts. Her embossed paper lace design took influence from an English valentine card she had received and the success of her mass produced greeting cards over handwritten notes created the global commercialisation of Valentine’s Day we experience today. She used lace and fine papers and employed assistants to help produce the very popular designs.

During the Victorian Era and its printing advances, Valentine cards became even more popular and the modern postal service of the age implemented the “penny post,” which made it easier to mail written valentines. (Prior to that time, postage was so expensive that most cards were hand-delivered and usually left on doorsteps.) To make their cards stand out, people often sought for real photographic postcards. As opposed to mass-produced lithographs, these were actual photographs made with a postcard-printed back. The photography studios frequently employed women to hand-tint and color the black-and-white images.

Some of the best of these cards came from Germany…famous for its detailed and colorful lithography. Popular subjects included women, children, flowers and couples, posed and arranged in an effort to portray the idealized virtues of the Era.

Some of the most unusual valentines were fashioned by lonely sailors during this time…unique cards sporting seashells of various sizes employed to create hearts, flowers and other designs, or to cover heart-shaped boxes. Sailors also sent what were known as “Busk Valentines,” rounded long sticks fashioned from ivory or wood, somewhat resembling a tongue depressor but approximately five time longer. Upon these sticks, the sailor would carve hearts and other loving designs. The “Busk Valentine” was worn by the sailor’s sweetheart inside her corset. It was not unusual for a manufactured valentine of this era to cost as much as a month’s earnings, particularly the “proposal valentines” which were very popular and might contain the depiction of a church or a ring. In keeping with Victorian etiquette, it was considered improper for a lady to send a valentine greeting to a man.

Traditions linked to St. Valentine’s Day and Romance.

In Great Britain during the 1700s, one very popular custom on the Eve of Valentine’s Day, was for ladies to pin five bay leaves sprinkled with rose water to their pillows…one leaf pinned to the centre and one to each corner. Eggs with salt replacing the removed yokes were then consumed before retiring for the evening. Before going to sleep, the lady would recite the following little prayer: “Good valentine, be kind to me; In dreams, let me my true love see.” If this charm worked, then the lady would see her future husband in her dreams.

In Great Britain, a woman would write the names of their sweethearts on small scraps of paper which would be placed on clay balls. The balls were dropped into water with the belief that whichever scrap of paper surfaced first would be the name of the man destined to be the future husband.

In England, centuries ago, children would dress up as adults and go singing from home to home. One such verse was:

“Good morning to you, valentine;
Curl your locks as I do mine–
Two before and three behind.
Good morning to you, valentine.”

By tradition, a young girl was supposed to eventually marry the first eligible male she met on Valentine’s Day.

Traditionally, if a young female is curious enough…and brave enough…she can conjure-up the appearance of her future spouse by visiting a graveyard at midnight on the Eve of Saint Valentine’s Day and singing a prescribed chant while running around the church twelve times.

In Wales, wooden love spoons would be carved and given as gifts. Favored decorations for the spoons were hearts, keys and keyholes…the decorations meaning “You unlock my heart!”

One of the most ancient of Valentine’s Days rituals (dating from at least the Middle Ages and possibly earlier) was the practice of writing the names of young ladies on slips of paper and placing them within a jar or bowl. The lady whose name was drawn by an eligible bachelor became his valentine and he wore the name on his sleeve for one week. It is believed that the saying “to wear one’s heart on one’s sleeve” (meaning that is is easy for others to know the romantic inclination of an individual) may have originated from this custom.

It was once believed that if a woman noticed a robin flying overhead on Valentine’s Day, it meant she would marry a sailor. If the woman saw a sparrow, the would marry a poor man, but be very happy. If she spied a goldfinch, it was said that her husband would be a man of great wealth.

In some countries, a young woman may receive a gift of clothing from a prospective suitor. If the gift is kept, then it means she has accepted his proposal of marriage.

If an individual thinks of five or six names considered to be suitable marriage partners and twists the stem of an apple while the names are being recited, then it is believed the eventual spouse will be the one whose name was recited at the moment the stem broke.

If an apple is cut in half, the number of seeds found inside the fruit will be an indication of the number of children that individual will have.

If a dandelion which has gone to seed is picked and an individual blows the seeds into the wind, the number of seeds which remain on the stem indicates the number of children that person will have.

In the Fourteenth Century, a sweetheart was chosen for the day by lot. Messages sent between these randomly chosen pairs are believed by some sources to be the forerunner of the modern day Valentine card.

In “The Golden Bough” authored by Sir James Frazer, it is written that during a pre-Lenten celebration in the town of Épinal in the Vosges region of France, bonfires were kindled and young townsfolk went from door-to-door pairing-up couples who were then forced to participate in a mock marriage. Later required to walk arm-in-arm around the fire, these couples exchanged gifts intended as ransom or redemption. The gifts were known as féchenots and féchenottes…or Valentines.

To be awoken by a kiss on Valentine’s Day is considered lucky.

For a lady to sleep with a sprig of rosemary pinned inside the pillow on the Eve of Valentine’s Day was once thought to encourage dreams of a future sweetheart’s face.

In Britain and Italy, some unmarried women would rise before sunrise on Valentine’s Day and stand by the window watching for a man to pass. It was believed that the first man seen…or someone who looked very much like him…would be their husband within a year.

In Demmark, it is customary to send pressed white flowers called snowdrops to friends.

If you cut an apple in half and count how many seeds are inside, you will also know how many children you will have.

Lace, frills and ribbons have long been associated with the concept of romance, originating from the days of chivalry when a knight rode into battle sporting a ribbon or scarf presented to him by his “fair lady.” Lace has been used throughout history in the making of women’s handkerchiefs. In centuries gone by, if a lady dropped her handkerchief, a man might pick retrieve it for her and it was not unusual for a lady to intentionally drop her handkerchief into the path of an attractive man in order to encourage his attention. The literal definition of the word “lace” is to “snare” or “noose.”

Love knots…consisting of a series of winding and interlacing loops which have no beginning and no end…are traditional symbols of everlasting love. Love knots were customarily made from ribbon or drawn on paper and presented to sweethearts.

Lovebirds…small parrots with colourful plumage found in Africa…are so named because they tend to sit closely together in pairs. Doves…common urban birds, shy and gentle by nature, with a distinctive “cooing” call…symbolize loyalty, fidelity and love since they mate for life and share in the nurturing of their young. The dove was a bird sacred to Venus and other cultural love deities…it was once thought that to dream of a dove was a promise of happiness and wishes made when the first dove appeared in Springtime were once considered to be assured of coming true.

It was formerly believed that the heart was the core of all human emotions. Accordingly, the giving of a heart signified the giving of everything. Although the Ancients were unaware that the heart pumps blood through the circulatory system, they did know that a heart would beat faster when an individual was excited or upset and thus, thought the heart was the centre of feelings. Throughout the ages, it has remained a symbol of love and the ancient belief linger still in such sayings as: “It does my heart good,” “I’m broken-hearted,” and “sick at heart.”

The hands of a lady has been a favourite valentine decoration for many years and is thought to depict desirable feminine qualities. The beauty of the image is often enhanced by the addition of a frilled cuff and/or a jewelled ring on the third finger. Clasped hands are said to represent those of Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert…the symbol of friendship between their respective countries of England and Germany.

The tradition of using an “X” to represent a kiss began with the Medieval practice of allowing those who could not write to sign documents with an “X”. This was done prior to documents being witnessed and the signer would place a kiss upon the “X” to indicate sincerity. Thus, the letter “X” came to be synonymous with a kiss until, with the passage of time, this letter of the alphabet was commonly used at the end of correspondence to indicate a kiss.

The rose, undoubtedly the most popular flower in the world, speaks of love and has been the traditional choice of sweethearts during every century. Precisely how it came to be the universal symbol of love and beauty is unclear. However, the rose was a sacred flower of Venus, Roman Goddess of Love, and the colour red is associated with strong emotions. The rose is symbolic of both peace and war…both love and forgiveness. Interestingly, the letters of “rose” when rearranged, form the word “Eros”…God of Love. In terms of the sentiments expressed by the different colours of the rose, the commonly accepted meanings are:

Coral — Desire
Lavender — Enchantment and Uniqueness
Orange — Fascination
Peach — Modesty, Gratitude, Admiration and Sympathy
Pink (Pale) — Grace, Joy and Happiness
Pink (Dark) — Thankfulness, Friendship and Admiration
Red — Love, Respect and Courage
Deep Red — Beauty and Passion
White — Innocence, Purity, Secrecy, Silence, Reverence, Humility and (according to some sources) True Love
Yellow — Joy, Friendship, Jealousy, Hope and Freedom
Black — Farewell

Red/White — Unity or Engagement
Yellow/Orange — Passionate Thoughts
Yellow/Red — Congratulations

Rosebud — Beauty, Youth and a Heart Innocent of Love
Red Rosebud — Purity and Loveliness
White Rosebud — Girlhood

Single Red Rose in Full Bloom — “I Love You”
One Dozen Red Roses — “I Love You”
Tea Roses — “I’ll Remember Always”

Another flower particularly associated with Valentine’s Day is the violet, which has a special connotation since legend states that violets grew outside the window of the jail where Saint Valentine was imprisoned. In the language of flowers, the violet is symbolic of faithfulness while a violet stone…the amethyst…is also considered lucky for sweethearts.

Modern celebrations

St. Valentine’s day is celebrated on February 14th in the West and Western influenced countries.

Different countries have different traditions and names relating to the 14th of February, originating from the same or similar events in time.

Wales- Dydd Santes Dwynwen (St Dwynwen’s Day) is celebrated on the 25th January and it commemorates the patron Saint of Welsh Lovers. They also celebrate St Valentine’s Day like the English.

France- Valentine’s Day is known as Saint Valentin

Spain- It is known as San Valentin

Deenmark and Norway- Valentinsdag is not largely celebrated but people do take time to have a romantic meal with their partners.

Sweden- Alla hjärtans dag (All Hearts’ Day) began in the 1960s by the flower industry due to American influence.

Finland- Ystävänpäivä (Friend’s day) this day is more about remembering all your friends as well as loved ones.

Estonia- Sõbrapäev which has a similar friend meaning

Slovenia- based on the proverb “St Valentine brings the key of roots” plants and flowers start to grow. Work on the vineyards and fields starts and it is also said birds propose to each other or marry on this day. Their day of love is traditionally March 12th Saint Gregory’s day.

Romania- Dragobete is celebrated on February 24th and is named after a character from Romanian folklore. The country has began to celebrate St. Valentine’s day much to the backlash of many who condemn the Western commercialisation.

Turkey- Sevgililer Gϋnϋ (Sweethearts’ day)

Israel- Tu B’Av 15th August Jewish tradition where girls in white dresses dance in vineyard where boys would be waiting. Modern culture still has this day to propose marriage and give cards and flowers.

Guatemala- Dia del Amor y las Amistad (Day of love and friendship) where doing acts of appreciation for friends are common.

Brazil- Dia dos Namorados (Boyfriends/Girlfriends day) June 12th exchanging of gifts the day before St Anthony’s day the marriage saint. 14th Feb isn’t celebrated at all as is too near the floating Carnival

South America- Dia del amor y la Amistad (love and friendship day) celebrated on 14th Feb (except Columbia where it is on September 20th) where gifts are randomly given like Secret Santa.

Japan- purely due to marketing efforts it is obligatory for women to give male co workers chocolates, giri-choko, and a reciprocal day on March 14th, White Day, is when men are supposed to return the favour.

South Korea- women give chocolate to men on Feb 14th, and they give back non-chocolate candy to women on March 14th. On April 14th, Black Day, those who didn’t receive gifts must eat black noodles and mourn their single life.

China- qing rén jié Western influence of men giing flowers and chocolates to the woman he loves. Asia has its own lover day traditions but non linked to St Valentine.

Iran- it is celibrated by the young despite restrictions by the government.

Saudi Arabia- in 2008 religious police banned sales of all Valentine’s Day items resulting in a black market of roses and wrapping paper.

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