February 2022 Monthly Focus
History of the Valentine Card

A Declaration of Love

A history of the Valentine card

At the primary school I attended, a decorated post box (i.e., a paper-covered cardboard box with a slit cut in it) would appear in the entrance in February and we were encouraged to post Valentine cards to our friends. I don’t know if this dubious ‘popularity contest’ was repeated in other schools but I do remember the thrill when I finally received a card!

The earliest surviving Valentine missive was written by a French man Charles, Duke of Orleans during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, following his capture during the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. It was a tender poem to his wife, Bonne of Armagnac, which uses the phrase, ‘Je suis desja d'amour tanné, Ma tres doulce Valentinée,’ (old French) which translates to, ‘I am already sick of love, My very gentle Valentine.’

The earliest example of an English Valentine dates to 1477 and was a love letter was written by Margery Brews to her fiancé John Paston. Margery refers to John as her ‘right well-beloved Valentine’ and implores him to marry her despite the fact she can’t convince her father to increase her dowry. Marriage had little to do with romance in the 15th century, but apparently they did eventually tie the knot!

Something akin to a modern greeting card for Valentine’s Day appeared in the 1700s. These cards were handmade, and usually hand-delivered by slipping them under a door. Romantics who found it difficult to commit their feelings to paper could actually buy booklets of verse suggestions.

The oldest printed Valentine’s Day card in existence can be viewed in York Castle Museum. It was printed in London in 1797 and features elaborate floral patterns, cupids and doves. It was hand-coloured because colour printing was not available in the 18th century, and the verse reads, ‘Since on this ever Happy day, All Nature's full of Love and Play. Yet harmless still if my design, 'Tis but to be your Valentine.’

30 Days hath September

“I wonder why February is the only month that has 28 days…” my teenage son mused one day. It got me thinking.

Today we use the Gregorian Calendar, a solar calendar used in the international standard for Representation of dates and times.

In Roman times though the calendar had a quite different structure. It originally consisted of 10 months rather than 12. There were 304 days in the year; six months had 30 days each and four months had 31 days each. Then the Roman king Numa Pompilius decided to bring the calendar in line with the lunar year and added January and February to the original 10 months. The king did not want months with even numbers of days though, because the Romans believed even numbers were unlucky. To this end he subtracted a day from each of the 30-day months to make them all 29. The lunar year consists of 354.367 days, but he didn’t want to round the number down to 354 because that would make the entire year unlucky, so he rounded up to 355 instead. Now he had six months with 29 days and 4 months with 31 days, giving 298 days, and leaving 57 extra days to be divided between the two new months. Mathematics dictated that one of the months would have to have an even number of days because the sum of any even amount (12 months in this case) of odd numbers will always equal an even number - and he needed the total to be odd. So, the king chose February as the unlucky month.

Over the following centuries the calendar has been altered several times. February has been shortened at some points, and sometimes a leap month was included, but eventually February has settled at 28 days, with the addition of a leap day every four years.

And the answer to my son’s question? February has 28 days because of superstitious Romans!