Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentine Customs Old and New

2015 Candy Hearts from the Atlantic article
Little chalky-tasting Valentine candy hearts have their messages updated every year, I read this week in an article in the Atlantic. I remember candy hearts from elementary school. They never tasted good, but were a permanent part of the class Valentine party. Also, Raggedy Ann had one sewn inside her chest, giving them extra significance.

The centerpiece of the class Valentine party in my schooldays was a decorated Valentine box made of a cardboard hat box (something that doesn't exist any more). The box had a slot cut in the top, and everyone would put in personally addressed Valentines, which were distributed during the party. Besides the chalky hearts we had lots of home-made cookies.

I think classroom celebrations are still pretty much the same now except the kids probably decorate a box from -- hat boxes being even more obsolete than the hats that were sold in them. Also, in some parts of the country, sweets aren't allowed at school parties, so I guess they can't have candy hearts or homemade cookies either.

I looked up the history of Valentine customs in England in Ronald Hutton's definitive book Stations of the Sun, A History of the Ritual Year in Britain. The earliest Valentine traditions weren't about human lovers, but about birds, who in Chaucer's time were believed to pick their mates on Valentine's Day. Sweet!

For a long time, people picked someone to be their Valentine, but the choice was made randomly. Beginning in the mid-18th century, children in some parts of England went from house to house asking for treats, much like the Halloween custom.
Morrow, morrow, Valentine,
I'll be yours if you'll be mine,
Please to give me a Valentine.
Rhymes like this became part of the tradition: in the morning, children would say the rhymes and receive presents from their families. In some places in the 19th century, the presents were given by "the Valentine Man" or "Father Valentine" an anonymous figure who left "sweets, fruit, pencils, or a book for each child on a window-sill or inside a hallway." (Hutton, p. 149)

Valentine cards became extremely popular in the early 19th century, with the post offices handling traffic far in excess of every-day demand. Towards the end of the century, "mocking, insulting, or 'indecent' Valentines" became popular, driving the more romantic and pretty cards out of favor. By 1914 the tradition of sending cards almost died out, but was revived in the 1920s with influence from America, and Valentine cards have remained popular in England ever since, according to Hutton.

Oh, and the New York Times, in an article in "The Upshot" says that those chalky hearts are "3,777 percent more likely than normal" to be eaten on Valentine's Day than any other day of the year. Champagne, oysters, strawberries, and many things dipped in chocolate are also consumed in larger-than-usual quantities. Sounds good to me. I hope you enjoy your celebration.


~~louise~~ said...

What a lovely post, Mae. It's a funny thing, I don't remember any Valentine parties at school when I was a kid. I do remember those kiddie Valentine's but we weren't "allowed" to give any out.

I love reading about customs past, as you know. This was a welcome read this Valentine's morning.

Thank you so much for sharing, enjoy your day and your loved ones:)

Debra Eliotseats said...

Nice article. I found some conversation hearts that were Lemon-Head flavors but were still pretty chalky. I remember those V-day boxes, too. :) Happy Valentine's Day.

Evelyn said...

Actually not Amazon boxes but shoe boxes.

Liz Berg said...

Happy Valentine's Day! Who does like the taste of those conversation hearts anyway? Thanks for your sweet comment about my dear mom. xo

Cakelaw said...

Cute candies - it is a shame that they taste bad.

Jeanie said...

I had to laugh about the chalky hearts being eaten more on Valentine's day than any other -- really, who would choose to eat them as a matter of course (if they could find them in July!)

I can't tell you how much I loved this post -- all the info and as you had your walk into Valentine parties of the past, I, too, was remembering mine. Sweet days...