Life in our Foothills February 2023 – Valentine’s Day Memories

Published 2:37 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Is there a sweeter day in the year than Valentine’s Day? It’s a day of chocolates, red roses, endearing cards, and candies with messages like “Be Mine” and “True Love.” Christmas is barely off the shelves before red, heart-shaped boxes filled with divine chocolates appear. Boxes of little candy conversation hearts are plentiful, and romantic cards take over the Hallmark stores.

Ornate, red, heart-shaped chocolate boxes have been part of the sweet holiday since 1861 when Richard Cadbury, son of Cadbury founder John Cadbury, created ‘fancy’ boxes of chocolates to increase sales.

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The boxes can be fairly basic in shape, size, and design or quite decorative and frilly, covered in satin or velvet. Chocolate stores prepare for the stream of boyfriends, suitors, and husbands, young and old, to enter the shop with red roses tucked under their arm, seeking a heart box of luscious chocolates. Some of these treasures become sentimental. The receiver saves the box from year to year, having it refilled with their favorite chocolates every Valentine’s Day. Looking faded and a bit raggedy, the precious box still brings joy and fond memories to the chocolate lover. 

Remember the candy hearts with all the sayings? Unfortunately NECCO candies, the company to originate these favorites, shut their doors a few years ago after being in business since the early 1900s. The little hearts weren’t available for two years. Eventually, the old equipment was purchased by Spangler Candy Company in Ohio. Valentine’s Day can once again be celebrated with the little messages. Search for some of the updated expressions like “Tweet Me,” “Soulmate,” and “You Rock.” There’s been some pushback about this updating, but times do change.

Valentine’s Day could be glorious or, unfortunately, heartbreaking in early-day classrooms. It began with decorating a box with hearts and flowered paper with a slit cut in the top to receive the valentines from classmates. My recollection is one large box for the room but others remember having a personal box right on their desk with their name displayed. When the day arrived, the cards were passed out which always resulted in a few people receiving a large assortment of wishes, while a quiet, shy child might be saddened by only one or two cards being placed on their desk. But if the one card they received was from a secret admirer, quality not quantity saved the day.

The old classroom-style cards were quaint and often filled with corny sayings or poems. Maybe just “Best Friends” said enough. Another might offer, “Hi Sugar, Let’s be Valentines,” or maybe a cowboy saying, “Hi Pardner.” 

Viewing some decorated vintage cards shows how dated the cards are. One picture shows a girl talking on a phone with the cord draped from the earpiece to the dial-type receiver. Today it would definitely display a smartphone and a text message. Sometimes vegetables were the focus of these cards, like tomatoes or lettuce. Another favorite reads “Honest, you’re as nice as pie.” It’s highlighted with hearts and a waitress serving pie to a sweetheart. If you received a Valentine with a small lollipop in it, you knew that person thought you were special.

Maybe Valentine’s Day seems like just another Hallmark holiday. 141 million Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged annually, making Valentine’s Day the second-most popular greeting-card-giving occasion, with Christmas being the first.  According to my research, the celebration can be traced back to the 4th century BC and a Roman feast called Lupercalia on February 15. Then, a priest named Valentine secretly performed marriage ceremonies. As a result of his defiance of Roman law, Valentine was put to death on February 14. In the early 1400s, the tradition started of sending “love letters.” People would create hand-made cards for their loved ones using red hearts and fancy white lace doilies. By 1840, Mrs. Esther Howard got the idea to mass produce these cards and sold $5,000 worth.  

Valentine’s Day is made for declaring love and romance in poetry. A favored sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning begins, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Some expressions are short and sweet. “Loved you once, love you still, always have, always will”; “A hundred hearts would be too few, To carry all my love for you”; or maybe “Down in a forest, Carved in a tree, 3 little words, I love thee.” And who can forget “Roses are red, Violets are blue, sugar is sweet, and so are you?”