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A short history of Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day has long been known as the ultimate day of romance. But despite candy hearts that say "Kiss me!" and an extra splash of pink and red around town, Valentine's Day's festive mood has taken centuries to develop, and in some instances, has a dark twist.

Valentine's Day is largely thought to have originated in the 3rd century A.D. thanks to Roman Emperor Claudius II. He executed two men named Valentine on two separate occasions, both of which happened to fall on the 14th of February of different years. The Catholic Church honored their martyrdom by creating St. Valentine's Day.1

So where do Valentine's Day cards come from?

Despite its morbid beginnings, the holiday quickly took off in the 14th century when Geoffry Chaucer, an English poet, wrote about love and Valentine's Day in the first recorded link between romantic love and the holiday itself.2 A century later, what could be considered the first Valentine's poem was penned by Charles, Duke of Orleans. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London after being captured in battle and wrote a sweet, longing valentine to his wife Bonne of Armagnac3

"Je suis desja d’amour tanné
Ma tres doulce Valentinée"

Translation: "I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine."

By the 18th century the act of expressing love with presents, sweets, or cards--called "valentines"--on February 14th had taken ahold of English society. Handcrafted Valentine's Day cards were in high fashion, to be slipped under doors by admirers. If one was not particularly creative with expressing themselves, not to worry... verse guides were sold to help (and to boost one's vocabulary). The oldest known handcrafted Valentine's Day card can be found today in the York Castle Museum in England, with the inscription: "Since on this ever Happy day, All Nature's full of Love and Play. Yet harmless still if my design, 'Tis but to be your Valentine."4

Valentine's Day card

Valentine's Day cards today

When the British colonized America, they naturally brought their traditions with them, including a fondness for Valentine's Day. The Industrial Revolution in the 19th century saw the birth of mass-produced Valentine's Day cards, and today sending a Valentine's Day card is the most common gift for the holiday with 55% of US consumers writing at least one.5

After centuries of celebrating Valentine's Day in cultures around the world, it is now deeply embedded in our collective understanding of romantic expression.

If you'd like to send your love to someone special this Valentine's Day, I've worked with hundreds of independent artists to bring you a collection that isn't available anywhere else. Whether you're looking for a heartfelt Valentine's Day card, a Valentine's Day card for your wife, or a Valentine's Day card for your husband, you're sure to find the perfect card this year.

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