Sunday, February 10, 2013

Will You Be My Valentine? – Victorian Style

With the day of romance nearly upon us, I thought it might be fun to see how Valentine’s Day was celebrated in the 19th century. What things have changed and what has stayed the same? Let’s find out!
Cards – Valentine’s cards were probably the most popular way to show affection on that day. These missives become even more popular than the Christmas card. The Valentine’s card business became a highly competitive market, with varieties from fun and comic, to truly sentimental. In the Edwardian era they reached new height, and lavish became the norm. Cards featuring dried flowers, real lace, spun glass hearts, and even real gemstones, were common. Some of these were so thick with embellishments they came in presentation boxes, and some unfolded like fans. Since they didn’t have any way of recording, I doubt any of them played music. J  For the poetically challenged, there were books full of verses and poetry to add to the valentine, although many often wrote their own messages.

One of the oldest Valentines in existence is owned by the British Royal Mail and dates from 1790. The inscription reads,

My dear the Heart which you behold,
Will break when you the same unfold,
Even so my heart with lovesick pain,
Sure wounded is and breaks in twain

I wonder what the lady thought when she received such a missive? Hopefully, she didn’t respond with a popular rhyme,

With proverbs, sir, I see you play;
With proverbs, sir, I answer nay.

Flowers – Flowers were also a popular gift in the Victorian era, and they especially utilized the language of flowers, which had different meanings for each flower. A red rose meant love (probably this is why red roses are still so popular today), but a yellow carnation meant ‘you disappoint me.’ A common practice was to send secret messages through a bouquet. A bouquet with white and red roses meant unity and other  combinations were common.

As you can see, Victorian traditions differ little from our modern celebrations, cards with ready-made messages are still sent and flowers still given. I enjoyed learning about these traditions and I hope you did too.

Happy Valentine’s Day,



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