There's A Reason We Send Our Loved Ones Cards On Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day isn't just a holiday for chocolates and roses; it's also closely associated with giving and receiving cards, also commonly called Valentines. While you might not have given it much thought as you've browsed around a store for the right card to give to a loved one, the reason why people traditionally give cards to one another to celebrate the holiday is deeper than greedy greeting card companies wanting to make a profit off of customers' love for one another. In fact, by participating in Valentine's Day celebrations, you're following a tradition that has been in place for at least hundreds of years, and possibly far longer.

In this piece, we're taking a look back at why Valentine's Day is celebrated in the first place and what cards have to do with the holiday that falls on February 14 every year. First, though, we'll need to go back to school and start off our explanation with a brief history lesson.

The history of Valentine's Day is a little confusing

Britannica explains that Valentine's Day originated with a Roman saint named Valentine, which is why the holiday is also referred to as "Saint Valentine's Day" in some contexts. Unfortunately, we don't have an accurate record of this Saint Valentine, who might have been two people in actuality. What we do know, however, is that Saint Valentine lived in the third century and was ultimately martyred. There are a few different stories here about the origins of Valentine's Day cards, but one of them is that, while imprisoned, Valentine signed a letter to an admirer with the line, "from your Valentine" — the same line that many people use in signing their Valentine's Day cards today.

According to NPR, Saint Valentine's Day was established by the Catholic Church on February 14 to honor Valentine on the anniversary of his execution. This occasion, at some point, possibly became conflated with the Norman Galatin's Day (a celebration of the love of women), and it evolved from there.

According to Literary Hub, the first written record of Valentine's Day comes from Geoffrey Chaucer's 1375 poem "The Parliament of Fowls," meaning that we've had over 600 Valentine's Days in recorded history. The history of Valentine's Day cards really picks up steam about a hundred years later, however.

Commercialized cards came along later

Chaucer's 1375 poem is our first written record of Valentine's Day, but Time reports that the oldest Valentine written in English was sent in 1477 and still exists today as part of the British Library's Collection. For a few centuries, it seems, handwritten letters were sent only between lovers to celebrate the holiday, but that didn't last forever. The widespread sending and receiving of cards to celebrate Valentine's Day might have begun in England during the 1800s, per the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. This was promoted to discourage people from "Valentining," which the university likens to trick-or-treating.

While USA Today writes that it was only in the past 100 years or so that the celebrations became more of a commercial affair, due to the efforts of Hallmark Cards in the United States, Time suggests that the commercialization of the holiday happened even earlier than that, and that a piece published in the New York Daily Tribune all the way back in 1847 was critical of the whole celebration (via Library of Congress).

Regardless of the exact history of the Valentine's Day card, we know that it has existed for a very long time, which is as good a reason as any to continue the tradition by sending a card to someone you love.