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Posted March 03, 2005 by Dana Garrett in Cuban History

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By Pedro Pablo Rodriguez | Cubanow.net

The traditional St. Valentine’s celebration didn’t exist in Latin American countries late in the 19th century. That’s why, in one of his first chronicles about life in the United States, Cuban patriot and intellectual Jose Marti described it for his Venezuelan readers.

The practice of sending love messages on February 14 has a pagan origin and, according to some sources, it establishes the moment when birds choose their partners.

Marti explained that the tradition was taken to the US from England. He wrote about the British maidens who pinned four leaves on the corners of their pillows and one in the middle to attract the man they wanted for their husband.

Likewise, how the young man chosen as Valentine should give his lover an expensive gift; and how the female shepherds chose the first shepherd she met that day as her boyfriend.

In America, the practice was to send anonymous verses with drawings depicting the flaws or traits of the people in love. Already in those times, they used to send postcards jeering the physical or moral flaws of the recipient.

Marti described some of these Valentines, like one received by a maid who was showing off her jewels and silks on her day off �her postcard showed a lady with a great bucket for a hat, a kitchen boy’s apron for a dress, forks for earrings, a skimmer for a fan, and a spoon for a broach.

However, the chronicler explained that the fashion wasn’t popular. “But the Valentines still in vogue are homemade drawings, made by a friendly hand, to make a good friend curious; or with charming figurines, tender and funny, in such a plentiful and rich variety that Valentines in stores are as abundant as the sand of the beaches”.

The Cuban journalist gave vivid details of the postcards to his readers of La Opinion Nacional in Caracas, Venezuela. “They’re made of fine Bristol lined with lace or trimmings; there are pink and blue cushions in which an innocent boy smiles with his French cap; there are angels, lovers, wild flower bouquets: lilies, daisies… or sunflowers, that are in fashion now because they are the flowers of the esthetes; or tulips, which are the flowers that have been paid for here at prices used to buy stocks”.

And Marti, who was a poet himself, couldn’t avoid making a comment about the words in the postcards and delivered an interesting appreciation regarding poetry at different times of life.

“And at their feet, smiling verses, daytime bird poems, blue poems, those that are written before life hits you, and not red like they are written later on, and not black, as they are usually written, until then the good years take on the white color of the light of the hair and the soul”.

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