St. Valentine’s Day is a very ancient holiday indeed. It is named for Saint Valentine, a saint from the Dark Ages, however, ironically, St. Valentine’s himself probably never celebrated love. However, during Valentine’s Day in the 1800’s, there were all kinds of stories about the origins of this special day. It was believed that the festival originated with the Festival of Lupercalia, an ancient Roman holiday. However most modern historians say this simply isn’t true.
Apparently, however Valentines Day was celebrated earlier than the 1800s. According to one source, Samuel Pepys, a writer in London, Valentines Day was being celebrated as early as the 1600s. They were even giving gifts just like we do today.
However, the Valentine’s Day cards that we are so fond of today did not really being to become popular until the 1700s, when people began sending romantic notes for the day (although they used regular paper and did not buy a special card for the occasion).
It was not until Valentine’s Day in the 1800s that special cards began to be come out. By the 1820s or so, they had become quite quite popular in both Great Britain and the United States. It was quite common for the cards to be printed with hearts and bows and arrows and the like just like today.
However, the real beginnings of Valentine’s Day date in the United States to the 1800s and start with a woman named Esther Howland. Howland was a student at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts and she started making cards for the holiday after she received one made in England. Her father owned a stationary store and so she was able to sell them through him. Before long, the business grew into an empire and Esther was hiring friends to help her with the business, making Worcester Massachusetts the center of the Valentine’s Day industry in the United States.
Esther was so successful that by the mid 1850s, everyone was sending Valentine’s Day cards to each other and the editors of the New York Times had had enough of the whole business. They published an editorial on February 14, 1856 calling the practice costly and indecent and wondering why people needed to waste money on such a frivolous thing.
However, in spite of the complaints of the New York Times editor for Valentine’s Day in the 1800s, the industry continued to grow. Even the Civil War couldn’t stop it. People continued to send the missives to their loved ones and the industry became what it is today: A day of love for couples everywhere.