Here is a heart-shaped Valentine's Day box my mother had hidden in her dresser drawer for as long as I remember. When we cleaned out her house, I put this precious box, most likely from the early 1950s, filled with letters from Korea written by my dad in my dresser draw. I decided not to read the notes until my father was reunited with my mom. (He is 95 and living in Ave Marie in Jamestown.)
A bit of Valentine's Day history
If you are looking for an excuse to eat chocolate, Monday, Feb. 14, is your day. Who needs a reason, right? After all, the latest scientific information says dark chocolate is good for you. It is my favorite of all chocolates.
Valentine's Day, however, is one of those days I could take or leave. After many years, it loses some of its significance. My interest has renewed a bit since I have grandchildren, and I am delighted to spend my Valentine's Day budget on them.
According to legend, St. Valentine was more than one person, and the stories around the two "Valentines" fluctuated between a priest that defied Emperor Claudius II's ban on marriage or a Christian martyr that signed his letters from prison "from your Valentine."
Of course, like many of our holidays, Valentine's Day has its roots in an ancient Pagan festival called "Lupercalia," celebrated on Feb. 15 in ancient Rome. This festival was dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture and, believe it or not, celebrated by sacrificing animals and smacking women with animal hides; this was done to encourage fertility. YIKES.
Our Valentine's Day did not grow roots until the end of the 5th Century, when Pope Gelasius officially made Feb. 14 Valentine's Day. In the Middle Ages, people began to associate love and romance to that day because the French and English thought birds began mating on that day. It's not yet Feb. 14, but I did hear some new bird songs this past weekend.
Not being a bird, how does Cupid fit in? Well, he is the god of love, Eros. Let's hope he didn't look like the little boy in a diaper with a bow and arrow.
The first Valentine exchanged between lovers, according to History.com, came from a duke named Charles to his wife. He wrote, "I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine." You guessed it; he wrote this from prison at 21, so all he had was his imagination.
From there, people began purchasing mass-produced valentines in the middle 1840s. This custom started with Esther A. Howland, the mother of the American valentine. Like my sister-in-law, she made fancy crafty cards with lace, ribbons and floral relief elements.
As far as giving flowers, there are traditional roses, red ones at that. Roses are not in season this time of year, making them expensive to give to your loved one. Sometimes, when we are young, we are worth it. Otherwise, I would rather have a plant or seeds that last longer.
That brings us to today. I was blown away by the amount of cash spent on love for this one day of the year. According to the National Retail Foundation, Americans spent more than $20 billion on Valentine's Day gifts in 2019 and were estimated to spend a record-breaking $27.4 billion for 2020 — including $2.4 billion on candy alone. That's what I'm talking about. Men spend around $291 compared to women spending $106. With the price of today's elaborate Valentine's Day cards, exchanged to the tune of 145 million cards (not counting the ones' put into those imaginative valentine boxes in school rooms), Hallmark has come a long way from its first Valentine's Day card sold in 1913.
I would never give my pet a card or gift on Valentine's Day, however in 2020, around 27.6 million American households gave Valentine's Day presents to their pet dogs, and more than 17.1 million picked up gifts for their cats. All in all, American families spent an estimated $751.3 million on gifts for their pets on Valentine's Day.
Okay, now about that heart-shaped box. If you are familiar with the Cadbury Easter egg, Richard Cadbury created the first heart-shaped box of chocolates in 1861. Boxes are still a popular gift. An estimated 36 million boxes of chocolate, and 58 million pounds of chocolate, are sold in fancy boxes each year. I'm banking on it. Happy Valentine's Day.
Sue B. Balcom
Writing, or maybe talking, comes naturally to me and under the guidance of a great newspaper editor I have acquired skills that led me to author four books.