Valentine’s Through the Years

by James Rada, Jr.

Every February love fills the air. On Valentine’s Day, sweethearts exchange roses, chocolates, cards and kisses. More than a day of romance, Valentine’s Day signals the end of the new-year blahs that settle in after the celebrations of New Year’s Eve and the cold, short days of January.

Over the past century in Hanover, the celebration of the most romantic day of the year has changed. It’s still recognizable as Valentine’s Day, but if we were to send a 1917 valentine to our special someone, they wouldn’t know what to think of it. But the goal is the same: We’re all just trying to find a way to say “I love you.”

“A lot of water has gone under the bridge, to coin a new phrase, since the Big Apple was a fruit and ‘23’ meant ‘skidoo,’ or scram if you prefer, but Dan Cupid hasn’t changed his business methods one iota,” the Evening Sun noted in a 1938 article. The sentiment still holds true.

Cards

The card is a Valentine’s Day staple. It might surprise you how much that simple item has changed over the years.

For one thing, Valentine’s Day cards haven’t always been the simple folded papers we sent today, according to the Evening Sun. The valentines of the 1870s and 1880s were quite elaborate. They were plush and adorned with silk, ribbons, and bows. And they could set the man buying the card back from $1 to $25 (about $605 today).

Some cards were inexpensive, but the point wasn’t to send a message of affection.

“In the past when one was on bad terms with his neighbor and wanted to ridicule or lampoon him, he could do it by sending him a comic valentine printed in colors and leaving a vitriolic message in coarse verse,” the Evening Sun reported.

If the card didn’t express a strong enough sentiment, then the sender might add a marginal comment or a note on the back, which, the newspaper noted, “frequently was done.”

These cards tended to be based on the receiver’s profession.

While they might not seem like an ideal item to send on the most romantic day of the year, their sales continued in the Hanover area until the mid-20th century.

As they began to fade in popularity, they gave rise to the inexpensive sentimental valentine that we are familiar with today. They were cards with a picture, often of a couple, with a short saying, such as, “O You Kid, I’ll Get You Yet.”

Not exactly a Hallmark card, but at least it wasn’t an attack.

As time passed, the valentine grew more to resemble the cards of today, though they could get a bit wordy — not to mention corny. One card from the 1930s read: “I May Not Belong To the Economic Royalty, But I Have A High Yearning Capacity For You.”

Over the years, the volume of valentine’s being sent through the local mails has fluctuated. In 1945, Hanover Postmaster Claude Meckley estimated that his office saw a 25 percent increase in business during the holiday, making it one of the busiest times of the year.

Another reliable spike in mail volume came on Valentine’s Days during wartime, particularly during World War I and II. In an effort to support the troops, lots of people sent lots of valentines to American servicemen.

As the Evening Sun reported, “it proved an incentive for love messages and judging by the number of letters and small packages going out of the local post office during the past several days, there were not many Hanover soldiers that did not receive a message today from his sweetheart or his home folks.”

Gifts

The popularity of inexpensive, affordable valentines was driven primarily by younger men. Older men, while perhaps balking at the expensive valentines of the past, still wanted to spend more than a penny on their lady loves. Local merchants were, of course, happy to oblige.

In 1932, the Evening Sun reported, “The candy stores for the past few weeks have been displaying cherry-red heartshaped boxes of sweets; florists have been extending their skill to the utmost in preparing attractive combinations of posies with which the ardent swain can lay siege to his affinity’s head; and book and paper shops again cater to those who want to express their longings and picture and verse.”

Buying the right gift for your sweetheart soon became nearly as expensive for the 20th-century Romeo as it was for the romantic hopeful of the 19th century.

By the 1960s, people had become rather jaded about the holiday, particularly men. They began to see the holiday gift giving as a one-way street — and they weren’t on the receiving end.

Social Events

Another element of the holiday in years past were the parties. While dances and other activities are still part of Valentine’s Day, they don’t loom as large as they once did. At the beginning of the 20th century, couples were more likely to participate in group events rather than go on individual dates.

The day was filled with parties, progressive dinners and dances. Schools and churches would decorate their gymnasiums and halls with hearts and crepe paper and invite a local band to provide the music.

The games at a 1920s Valentine’s Day party at a Hanover church included pitching heart-shaped quoits, a musical hunt, a heart-guessing contest and fortunetelling, using hearts at which arrows were shot from Cupid bows.

Nowadays, you might still find a Valentine’s Day dance, but parties are harder to come by. The contemporary celebration is more likely to be a romantic dinner.

What it all comes down to, though, is finding a way to let that special person in your life know just how special he or she is.

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Author: HM

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