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Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day Shopping through History
by Traci O'Dea

Though many cynics like to claim otherwise, St Valentine’s Day has a history that began long before the holiday was hijacked by Hallmark, chocolatiers and florists. This list offers possible Valentine’s Day gifts with historical significance while also providing an abridged history of the holiday. 

Bath Products—In the fifth century BC, Februa, “the Roman festival of general expiation and lustration” according to Encyclopaedia Britannica, emphasized purification.

Leather—Februa later morphed into Lupercalia, a celebration in which nude young men ran around Rome bearing whips made from the skins of sacrificed animals to gently strike willing women seeking reproductive assistance, says Wikipedia.

Relics Box—At the turn of the third century, a Christian named Valentine of Terni allegedly died on February 14, according to The Telegraph, and relics assigned to him are housed at Basilica of Saint Valentine in Terni.
Tableware—Wikipedia notes that the feast of St Valentine was established around 500 AD by Pope Gelasius I in honour of the martyred saints.

Birds—The Oxford English Dictionary cites the literary uses for St Valentine’s Day starting in 1381 with Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules which mentions birds looking for their mates. In Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, Theseus says: “Saint Valentine is past. Begin these wood birds but to couple, now?”

Blank Notepads for Love Poems—Charles D’Orleans is credited with writing the first Valentine’s Day poem in the 15th century: “Je suis desja d'amour tanné/ Ma tres doulce Valentinée” (Love’s already tanned my hide/My very precious Valentine) which actually sort of ties back to the Lupercalia celebrations.


Cards—Valentine’s Day cards were exchanged in the UK in the eighteenth century. In 1847, they were first mass produced in the US by Esther Howland. Hallmark’s website states that the popular card manufacturer “first offered Valentine’s Day cards in 1913.”


Picture Frames—On February 14, 1849, James Polk became the first serving US President to have his photograph taken.

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