Gifts of the heart

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What are you hoping that special someone will give you this Valentine’s? A box of chocolates, perhaps? A bouquet of roses? Or maybe you’re just holding out for a card under your room door. Either way, have you ever stopped to think about where these traditions came from?

Valentines itself sprung up all the way back in the Middle Ages, when people believed that February 14th was the day birds started mating. Having come to this conclusion, what better way to celebrate the mating season by sending letters of love to their other half!

photo by awhitecarousel.com

Early Valentines cards were beautiful hand-made creations decorated with inks and water colours – there were no last minute stops at the garage to pick up a Hallmark card back in those days! There were plenty of ways to pass on your message of romance, too. Many lovers wrote a poem where the first letter of each line spelt out the recipient’s name, and some even created a ‘puzzle purse’, where the verse was folded in an intricate pattern that had to be unfolded in the right order before it made any sense. And you thought modern Valentine’s was tricky enough!

The tradition of sending a bunch of flowers on the big day may seem like something only a man would do for his lady, but originally, both men and women used to send flowers. Way back in the 18th century, each flower had a specific meaning, and lovers would exchange single flowers by way of having a conversation through petals. Receiving a rose was the height of romance, as this flower, of course, represented ‘I love you’. Everyone would have been desperate to receive a violet in return, symbolising ‘I return your love’. However, it wasn’t all giddy fun, with flowers such as the gladiolus there to sting the recipient with a not-so-sweet ‘you pierce my heart’!

Of course, this time of year also sees the shelves lined with heart-shaped chocolate boxes, and most of us are fond of receiving a sugary treat from those who care about us. This tradition harks back all the way to the Aztecs, who used chocolate for its aphrodisiac qualities. Throughout Central America, women even used melted chocolate as a love potion and ‘spiked’ their desired men with it!

Here in England, the tradition caught on some considerable years later, but chocolate has always been a hit amongst the lovelorn. During the 1800s, doctors often prescribed chocolate to those suffering from lovesickness to soothe their nerves and calm their emotions… not an unpleasant cure at all! Of course, it was a certain Richard Cadbury who ‘invented’ the first Valentine’s Day chocolate box in the Victorian times, and we’ve been sending those gold-wrapped goodies ever since.

So, whether you are laden with gifts this Valentine’s or get a little card signed with a mysterious kiss, remember how it all began, and think of all those people who have puzzled over who their lover could be in centuries past!

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