Sunday, February 13, 2011

St. Valentine's Day

New York City, 

Valentine’s Day was wildly popular in the late nineteenth century, reflecting the values of a society that prized ceremony and ritual. Traditionally celebrated on Saint Valentine’s Day, the holiday acquired its amorous meaning during the Middle Ages, even though none of the martyred saints named Valentine seems to have had any particular connection to romantic love.1 In the early 1800s, there was a revival of the tradition when couples began to consider romantic love a prerequisite for marriage, and it later got an added boost in the 1840s with the introduction of mass-produced greeting cards. By the early 1880s, the amative feast day was ripe for commercial exploitation that went beyond the usual candy, flowers, and cards. It was at about this time that the hotels in New York were looking for new ways to attract people, having recently lost many of their permanent residents to apartment buildings. One idea was to host lavish theme dinners on the holidays, as reflected by this menu from the St. Nicholas Hotel on Valentine’s Day in 1882. The culinary wordsmith who named a dish “Potatoes à la Santa Claus” on their Christmas menu a few weeks earlier rose to the occasion again, this time christening a cake “Gâteaux à la Valentine.”