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Ribbon, a Valentine’s Day Symbol

Valentine’s Day is a holiday known and celebrated all over the world, and although there are many ways of honouring the occasion, there are certain iconic symbols which are associated with the festival and which can be seen time and again in connection with February 14th. Greetings cards sent by couples on this special day feature these images, and they are displayed in shop windows, in advertising and in popular culture. One of these key symbols is ribbon, with red ribbons being one of the most recognised images of Valentine’s Day. Appearing on cards and being used to wrap presents, there may be a well known connection there, but just why is ribbon a Valentine’s Day symbol?

The Age of Chivalry
red-ribbonOne of the main reasons why ribbon is linked with Valentine’s Day goes all the way back to Medieval times when the Age of Chivalry was at its height. Although the concept of chivalry is not fully understood today, in the middle ages there was plenty of literature written on the subject and knights were expected to abide by a code of honour, in the way that they lived their lives, behaved on the battlefield and the way in which they conducted themselves in love. An author in the 12th century, Andreas Capellanus, wrote a text about the 12 elements of chivalrous love which stated that:

1. A chivalrous man should avoid avarice but be generous instead
2. He should stay chaste for the sake of his beloved
3. He should never knowingly break up another couple
4. He should never fall in love with someone inappropriate
5. He should never lie
6. He should not brag about his love life
7. He should dedicate himself to serving his lady
8. He should always be modest in the matters of love
9. He should never say evil things about anyone
10. He should not tell about the love affairs of others
11. He should always be courteous and polite
12. He should always be respectful of his lover when pursuing her

These rules were prevalent at court through into the Tudor era, and courtly men followed them to attract and win the woman of their dreams.


Ribbon and Lace as Symbols of Love
While the Age of Chivalry may not appear to have anything to with the recognition of ribbons and lace as Valentine’s Day symbols, in fact it was this very tradition that led to the custom of attaching red ribbons to gifts and displaying lace on cards. The Middle Ages was a time of frequent warfare and it was customary at this time for a knight to ride into battle wearing a token given to him by his lady. A woman would give the object of her desire her lace handkerchief or some ribbons from her hair for luck and protection, as well as to remind him of her love, and it is from this tradition that lace and ribbons have endured into the present era as a popular Valentine’s Day symbol. Lace handkerchiefs have another connection to love also. Throughout history, it was a common custom for ladies to drop their handkerchief at the feet of a man when hoping to attract his attention, and this practice may also have led to this symbol being linked with the most romantic of all holidays.

Ribbons and Their Uses
The term ribbon refers to a narrow band of material which is usually used to tie something together in a decorative way. Some of the most popular materials for making cloth ribbons include velvet, silk, jute, cotton and, in modern times, nylon and polyester. It is commonly used for both practical and ornamental purposes and is often used to adorn the hair, body and packaging. One of the oldest types of decorative textile, ribbons have been added to clothing for centuries, with records of them having been sold by peddlars as long ago as the Middle Ages. The wearing of ribbons became so controversial during theĀ 16th century that the English Parliament even tried to ban ordinary people from wearing them, however by the 17th century they were popularly being used to trim the garments of both men and women, and its use only increased throughout the Victorian era. Today, although ribbons are less frequently seen on clothing, they are often used to decorate parcels, Valentine’s Day cards and gifts and are often used to tie bouquets of flowers to achieve a more beautiful presentation.