Valentine Symbols

It's not difficult to figure out the connection between the heart and Valentine's Day. The heart, after all, was thought in ancient times to be the source of all emotions. It later came to be associated only with the emotion of love. (Today, we know that the heart is, basically, the pump that keeps blood flowing through our bodies.)

It's not clear when the valentine heart shape became the symbol for the heart. Some scholars speculate that the heart symbol as we use it to signify romance or love came from early attempts by people to draw an organ they'd never seen. Anyway, here are some of the other valentine symbols and their origins:

  • Red roses were said to be the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Also, red is a color that signifies strong feelings.
  • Lace has long been used to make women's handkerchiefs. Hundreds of years ago, if a woman dropped her handkerchief, a man might pick it up for her. Sometimes, if she had her eye on the right man, a woman might intentionally drop her handkerchief to encourage him. So, people began to think of romance when they thought of lace.
  • Love knots have series of winding and interlacing loops with no beginning and no end. A symbol of everlasting love, love knots were made from ribbon or drawn on paper.
  • Lovebirds, colorful birds found in Africa, are so named because they sit closely together in pairs -- like sweethearts do. Doves are symbols of loyalty and love, because they mate for life and share the care of their babies.

How about the "X" sign representing a kiss? This tradition started with the Medieval practice of allowing those who could not write to sign documents with an "X". This was done before witnesses, and the signer placed a kiss upon the "X" to show sincerity. This is how the kiss came to be synonymous with the letter "X", and how the "X" came to be commonly used at the end of letters as kiss symbols. (Some believed "X" was chosen as a variation on the cross symbol, while others believe it might have been a pledge in the name of Christ, since the "X" -- or Chi symbol -- is the twenty-second letter of the Greek alphabet and has been used in church history to represent Christ.)

It became easier to mail valentines in the mid 1800s, when the modern postal service implemented the penny post. Until then, postage was so pricey that most cards were delivered by hand.

Esther Howland struck gold with the first commercial American valentines. Today, there are nearly 2,000 greeting card publishers in the United States.