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Of Cards, Hearts and Valentines

By BJ Sibley

Depending upon which story you believe, Valentines Day may have had a very bawdy beginning. Some sources say this holiday of sweets and flowers started as the Festival of Lupercalia in ancient Rome. Lupercalia was celebrated in 4 B.C. as a young man´s fertility rite. Names would be drawn which paired young men and women for as long as a year.

Early Church fathers, in about 800 A.D., hoping to change this pagan practice, changed the name to Valentine in honor of a bishop who had been martyred in about 270 A.D., during the reign of (mad) Emperor Claudius II.

Seems Claudius decided that married soldiers were not fighting soldiers, so he outlawed marriage. Bishop Valentine secretly “tied the knot” for many Romans in defiance of Claudius who retaliated by imprisoning Valentine. Valentine then fell in love with his jailor´s daughter and just before his execution, sent the young woman a note signed, “From your Valentine”. He was beheaded on February 14th.

Courting women was, however, a Roman practice which continued to be celebrated on February 14th, no matter what the church did to try to change it. Roman men were the first, it is written, to send cards on that day to those women of whom they were enamored. Eventually the cards acquired St. Valentine´s name.

In the sixteenth century a bishop tried to get rid of the romantic card giving tradition. Not only did he fail, but cards got more and more decorative. It is about that time that Cupid, with his love-dipped arrow, became a popular Valentines theme. The first valentine cards published in the United States were in the 1870s, by an artist named Esther Howard. Her cards cost from five to ten dollars with some selling for $35 each.

Sending cards today is a billion dollar industry and never more so than on February 14th. Here are some facts from the Greeting Card Association:

• .Nearly one billion Valentine´s Day cards are expected to be exchanged in the United States this year, including children´s classroom exchange valentines.

• Approximately three-fourths of Americans celebrate Valentine´s Day.

• Approximately 30 percent of individual valentine cards are sent to significant others (i.e., spouse or sweetheart). Nearly half are sent to family members other than a husband or wife, primarily children.

• .Love is universal, but Valentine´s Day is widely celebrated only in the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, Denmark, Italy and Australia.

• Greeting cards are the most popular Valentine´s Day gift in the United States, ranking ahead of candy, flowers, gifts or a romantic dinner out.

• The exchange of individual Valentine´s Day cards is divided nearly evenly between hand delivery and mail delivery. .

• More than half of all valentine card purchases occur during the week prior to February 14.

• Women generally account for 85 percent of all Valentine´s Day card purchases, buying for family and friends as well as their sweethearts.

• Men buy more cards for Valentine´s Day than for any other holiday. However, men generally purchase only one Valentine´s Day card, which is given to their spouse or sweetheart.

• .Men tend to select more expensive, more romantic valentines than women, but are last-minute shoppers.

• Teachers receive more Valentine´s Day cards than anyone else, due largely to the tradition of grade-school classroom valentine exchanges.

• Valentine cards are not just for people in romantic relationships. Valentines are exchanged between parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, teachers and students as well as lovers.

• Hearts, roses, lace, Cupid, and the colors red and pink remain traditional valentine icons for adults. Characters from popular books, cartoons, television shows, toys and movies are popular icons for children´s classroom exchange.

• Although red remains the most popular color choice for Valentine´s Day cards, purple, rose, hot pink and orange shadings of red are also popular this year, reflecting the color palette seen in recent women´s fashions.

• Traditional paper Valentine´s Day cards are significantly more popular than E- valentines. Most e-mail valentines are sent as a spur-of-the moment supplement to traditional paper valentines.

• .Although the bulk of individual Valentine´s Day cards express romantic feelings, greeting card publishers say that the more relaxed relationships of today have led to cards with less formalized romantic verse in favor of copy that is straight to the point as to how they feel.

• Approximately one-fourth of individual valentine cards are humorous. More adults aged 35 and under send humorous cards than any other age bracket.

Sources: www.grove.edu; www. techdirect.com: www.care2.com; www. holidayorigins.com.

Reprinted with permission from The Sierra Mountain Times