In just 2 weeks it will be Valentines Day and New Yorkers are probably already planning who they will give Valentines cards to, what presents they will buy and who they will spend this special day with. While there are stories about a Saint Valentine, see the video which provides the most common tale, in fact the earliest mentions of a day of this type were in pre Christian Rome and the Catholic Church with whom the original Saint Valentine is associated, has removed him from their official list of Saints because there is no verifiable knowledge about him, whether re really existed, and if he was indeed martyred.
The history of Valentines Day in NYC begins in the 17th Century with some people exchanging hand made greeting cards expressing romantic themes which was the continuation of a European tradition. The practice became a little more widespread in the 18th Century but the emergence of Valentines Day as a huge mass phenomena did not take off in NYC until the middle of the 19th century. It was the development of commercial printing presses and a good postal service which both supported the mass distribution of Valentines Day cards, that enabled it to become a common practice in NYC and elsewhere. The first printed Valentines Day cards were copies of British ones and were manufactured by an enterprizing Massachutsetts woman called Esther Howland and New Yorkers purchased her lace decorated cards in droves once they became available.
Though the day, February 14th, despite it’s pagan beginnings had become infused with religious as well as romantic significance, by the 20th Century this had almost entirely vanished. Even though it is mainly associated with honoring one’s spouse or partner, by the giving of gifts such as flowers, candy, jewelry and books of romantic verses as well as special time spent together, even that has now been watered down. Indeed today the exchange of cards is not limited to romantic partners but it is an accepted practice to give cards to all with whom you have an affectionate relationship such as broader family members, teachers, friends and workmates.
Most special days that once held special religious significance, such as Christmas Day, Valentines Day, St Patricks Day and Easter, while still doing so for some, have now mostly become a delicate balance between a genuine commitment to broad ideals of love, birth and rebirth and straight out crass commercialism. It is now up to individual New Yorkers to invest the day with genuine personal commitment to honoring those who they hold in affectionate regard and love. So happy Valentines Day New Yorkers, on February 14th, and may it be a loving one.