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Why are hearts symbols of Valentine’s Day? Why do we celebrate love with the colors red and pink? And what’s with the diapered flying baby with a bow and arrow?
ProQuest newspaper collections can answer these questions, and more!
The early years
Initially, celebrations of spring came about in February, modeling after the time of the year that birds were choosing their mates, which was considered a favorable for people to do the same. Different birds flying overhead at specific times also had various meanings: “… if a woman saw a robin flying overhead, she would marry a sailor; if she saw a sparrow; she would marry a poor man but be very happy; and if she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a very wealthy man….”1
The main part of the celebration usually involved “young women [who] put their names in a large jar and the young men would [each] draw a name…. Then, for the next year they would date. This is said to have worked well and many couples were married. In the Middle Ages, men and women would draw each other’s names from a bowl and then wear the [paper heart] ... on their sleeves for a week.”1 Some men also wrote the name of their loved one on the heart. This brought about the eventual phrase to wear your heart on your sleeve.2
However, not everyone approved of “… [what was called] the Feast of Lupercus …. [Called ‘Lupercalia,’ the festivities celebrated] Juno Februata, [the] goddess of ‘feverish’ (febris) love [and fertility].… As Christianity became dominant in the Roman Empire, Pope Gelasius in 496 sanitized the Lupercalia by attaching it to the nearest feast day, St. Valentine’s….”2
To keep the “celebrations” on the up and up, the actual Saint Valentine helped some young lovers marry, but in secret. Why? To further sanitize the holiday’s origins, “the Roman emperor of the time, Claudius the Goth, tried to forbid his soldiers to marry, lest the comforts of home soften them for battle. So Valentine is said to have performed clandestine marriages….”3
What about Cupid and his arrow? And the colors?
Cupid’s origin seems to come from another mashup of celebrations and beliefs, as “the god of eternal light, Vali, displayed as a great archer, was also celebrated during the month of February.”4 “… Cupid was the son of the winged messenger Mercury, and Venus, the goddess of love…. [As] Christian influences pushed out ancient Greek and Roman beliefs, Cupid was seen as an angel of heavenly and earthly love…. Cupid has wings is because lovers are known to … change their … minds with some frequency…. He … carries arrows … because love can … wound…. “5
“According to David Small, associate professor of archaeology at Lehigh University… little cupid figures were actually helpers or assistants of Venus. Known as erotes, they were part of the spirit of love that surrounded the goddess and did her bidding. Their wings and little bows and arrows are a part of [that] tradition….”6
The color red (and its sister color, pink) have long been correlated to the color of the heart, as well as blood, and physical warmth. Of course, red is also associated with war and danger (which probably represents at least some relationships!).
Pink “represents compassion, nurturing and love. It relates to unconditional love and understanding, and the giving and receiving of nurturing. A combination of red and white, pink contains the need for action of red, helping it to achieve the potential for success and insight offered by white. It is the passion and power of red softened with the purity, openness and completeness of white.”7 There is also one portrayal of St. Valentine himself that shows him carrying “… a red book, which one would assume to be a religious work, and he wears a large pink hat and a white robe.”8
Expressing our feelings in writing
“The first written valentine is often attributed to Charles, Duke of Orleans. From [the Tower of London] prison in 1415, he wrote romantic verses for his wife….”9 The idea of sending a card came to the US and spread to other countries, however, starting in the late 1840s. A woman [named Esther A. Howland] visited England and discovered that “people had started the custom of exchanging cards on Valentine’s Day.
“…Howland,… in 1850, began mass-producing valentine cards [using her father’s printing press]. She was only 22 and soon her business -- run out of her Worcester, Mass., home -- brought in $100,000 a year. At 53, she sold the business and retired.”10 Her success set off a lot of other business promotion around the holiday. “After this, the tradition of giving gifts of flowers, candy and cards began, with men mainly giving to women.”8 Then the “… candymakers got into the act, promoting … especially chocolates.”2
Get an in-depth look at other holidays and celebrations throughout history and today, with newspapers from ProQuest. Request free trials today!
[Image: Anticipations of St. Valentine's Day. (1899, Feb 12). Courier-Journal (1869-1922)]
1. From christian saint to commercialized holiday: St. valentine. (2009, Feb 05). Turkish Daily News
2. Valentine's customs then and now. (2012, Feb 09). Burnaby News Leader
3. Piper, H. (1999, Feb 14). Who was or were valentine?; history: Little is known about the patron saint of lovers, but historical links to events in ancient rome this time of year abound. The Sun
4. Dawkins, K. (2007, Feb 12). Valentine's day holiday has strange, fascinating and controversial history. The Athens News
5. Cupid's connection to love. (2015, Feb 10). Fox Creek Times Whelan, F. (1992, Feb 13). THE ORIGIN OF LOVE'S LITTLE GUY CUPID HAS A COLORFUL AND MAGICAL HISTORY. Morning Call
7. Wecker, M. (2013, Feb 14). Beneath commercialized valentine's day, elusive saint emerges in art history (posted 2013-02-14 20:37:34). The Washington Post
8. 6 Piper, H. (1999, Feb 14). Who was or were valentine?; history: Little is known about the patron saint of lovers, but historical links to events in ancient rome this time of year abound. The Sun
9. Walker, K. (2005, Feb 14). Love it or not, valentine's has quite A history. Tampa Tribune
10. Dawkins, K. (2007, Feb 12). Valentine's day holiday has strange, fascinating and controversial history. The Athens News