Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day. For some it's a day to share joy about that powerful emotion that is love. My personal favorite title: Singles Awareness Day (aka SAD). No matter your attitude, it's hard to miss the bright red dotting every store window. I love that bouquet of roses my fiance gives me every year! It's just another one of those loving gestures...
The way to a woman's heart is her stomach

For those of you who usually enjoy my resource collecting/style, this post should fulfill that need. I don't really need to prove that Valentine's Day existed. Rather, I'd like to give little tidbits about the celebration that could be helpful when trying to add it to an impression. Other blogs/posts have been quite informative, so I'll reference them when possible.

History of Valentine's Day
We're going waaaay back. The exact origins are not precise, as they have roots in both the Roman holiday Lupercalia and stories of three martyred Christians going by the same name. A healthy, pagan blend of religions? Probably. Regardless of truth, a link to romance is present in them all. England and France especially took to the holiday, and in the 15th century the first documented Valentine’s card came to be.

Yet the tradition took a bit longer to become popular in the United States, specifically by the mid 19th century. A girl named Esther Howland, whose father worked in a stationary factory, wished to replicate a beautiful English Valentine. He supplied her with the proper paper and colors and the result was an instant success. Orders started pouring in, and in 1862 a company in New York alone order $30,000 worth from Esther and her father. During the war they became wildly popular, using pinks, reds, and lacy paper. It seemed that everyone wanted to celebrate!

So from then on, Americans were hooked. This woman is the reason why I receive cheesy Spongebob cards and endure the mountains of candy that end up on my desk. My stomach thanks you, dear Esther, but my diet does not!

Photographic Documentation
Whilst looking for photos, I mostly found drawings/engravings. These would be the exception to that, and oh aren't they just scrumptious? Can someone recreate these please?

These are obviously posed, but even in that we see the 19th century attitude towards Valentine's Day. Fun, playful, slightly naughty? Secret notes between lovers? The body language of the woman in the first betrays her coquettish nature, an encouraged trait on this day. I like to think that even the most matronly Queen Victoria would have cracked an impish smile at such images.

Textual Documentation

Here I had a treasure trove of images and text. Short stories, poems, drawings, all revealing so much about the celebration of love. Sometimes they were a bit...morbid? My modern sensibilities are often surprised by these little research adventures.

Saint Valentine's Day, Godey's Lady's Book, February 1861
VALENTINE' S day in my grandfather's time; it was something worth looking forward to then; you should hear the old gentleman talk about it. The ice of many a courtship was broken; the heart of many a maiden won through the medium of those emblematic pictures and flattering rhymes sent on that licensed morn. Young men— my grandfather among the number— were known never to have retired to rest at all, but to have spent the night previous under their mistresses' window, for the purpose of gaining her first glance in the morning, and thus, according to the old superstition, have the right of being her Valentine for the rest of the day , or, what was perhaps still more important, her husband for life. Young girls, in order to avoid the sight of a disagreeable suitor, would shut themselves up for the entire morning; others, by various clever stratagems— peeping through little friendly holes in the window curtains; sitting with their eyes shut for hours, until they heard the wished- for step or well-beloved voice— endeavored to take in destiny, and cheat the fates! Postmen were known to have fainted beneath the weight of Cupids, doves, Hymen's temples, and gold rings their bursting bags contained. One misanthropic man of letters committed suicide on Valentine' s eve by throwing himself, bag and all; into a river near my grandfather's house, leaving a note on the bank stating his reasons for the act: hatred to marriage, and a desire to save his fellow-creatures from that misery, as the wooer on the fourteenth of February was generally a fool by the first of April.

But Valentine' s day in the nineteenth century— the sober, intellectual, satirical, nineteenth century— is a very different affair. “These are the days of advance.” In our onward march of civilization we have trampled the Maypole under our feet, dethroned its pretty queen, and turned Cupid out of doors. “Strong-minded young ladies” sneer at such “senseless things,” and youth itself will soon be as much out of fashion as the rest. But yet, with all these disadvantages to battle against, Valentine' s day , although the mere ghost of its former self, still continues to have its old “match-making” propensities; truth still lurks in those annual rhymes, and many a proposal those love lines have contained has ended in smiles and blushes, wedding favors, and bride-cake at Whitsuntide.

St. Valentines, Day, Godey's Lady's Book, February 1864

St. Valentine's Day, Godey's Lady's Book, February 1865

Surviving Originals
If I lived during that time, I could imagine myself receiving a valentine from a loved one, possibly away at war. Whether he lived or died, I would cherish that little bit of paper. I'm also the 21st century girl who saved flowers from a boy in middle school, and they can still be found pressed in between the pages of my old journal. Sentimentality was at a feverishly high pitch at this time, so it's no wonder we have so many surviving originals. I could have included dozens more, but seriously people. I need some me time.

At this moment I let my imagination take over. I am that woman in 1862, thinking of the perfect words to pen to my beloved fiance. Or perhaps he is away at war, with the flimsy piece of paper as the only reminder that he lives? The possibilities are endless! Is it just me, or do modern cards seem to lack the depth that I see here? Top that Hallmark!

Now forgive me here, because I did not take the time to make these myself. A craft show, birthday, wedding shower...this month has proven to be a formidable one. Maybe next year? In any case, interested parties can use the following sources to make their own!

If anyone makes Civil War period valentines, can you pretty please post them on here? I really wish I could do them this year, so your creativity will have to suffice!
Happy Valentine's Day!


Sources/Articles of Interest

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