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Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day originated as a Western Christian feast day honoring an early Saint named Valentine. It is still an official feast in some denominations, although the day was removed from the Catholic General Roman Calendar because not much information was known about the Saint. The day is now also a cultural and commercial holiday centered around romance and love. It is celebrated in many places around the globe, although it is not a public holiday. Symbols associated with the day are the heart-shaped outline, doves, and the figure of a winged Cupid.

There was actually not just one Saint Valentine, but three. The first and most noteworthy was Saint Valentine of Rome. He was a priest in Rome, was martyred in 269 CE, and was added to the calendar of saints in 496, by Pope Galesius. Legend has it that Valentine was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to get married, and for ministering to and assisting Christians who had been persecuted under the Roman Empire. It also is said that he cut hearts from parchment and gave them to persecuted Christians and soldiers, to remind them of their vows and God's love. Another legend says that during his imprisonment he healed the blind daughter of his jailer, and sent her a letter before his execution, signing it as "Your Valentine." Saint Valentine is buried on the Via Flaminia.

A second Saint Valentine was Valentine of Terni; he was a bishop of Terni, which was called Interamna at the time. He is believed to have been martyred in 273 CE, under the persecutions of Emperor Aurelian. He also was buried on the Via Flaminia, but in a different area than the Valentine of Rome. A third Valentine is mentioned in the Catholic Encyclopedia. He was martyred in Africa along with others, but that is all that is known of him.

The day first became associated with romantic love because of the fourteenth century poet Geoffrey Chaucer, who wrote Parlement of Foules in 1382, to commemorate the anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England and Anne of Bohemia. When the words of the poem are modernized, they can be read as, "For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate." The first time Valentine's Day is mentioned as an annual day for love is in the Charter of the Court of Love from 1400. Believed to be written by Charles VI of France, it notes festivities on Valentine's Day attended by members of the royal court, including a feast, love related song and poetry competitions, jousting, and dancing.

The giving of "valentines" began shortly thereafter. The earliest written valentine dates to 1415, and the earliest surviving English valentines date to 1477, and are part of the Paston Letters. By the eighteenth century, lovers were giving each other flowers, confectionaries, and valentines in the form of greeting cards. Valentines were so popular by the early nineteenth century that they were made in factories. Fancier valentines were made of lace and ribbons. Sixty thousand valentines were sent by the post of Britain in 1835. In 1840, postal rates were lowered and postage stamps were created, and in 1841, there were 400,000 valentines mailed. More began being sent by mail, but they became less personal. At this time cards began being exchanged anonymously as well. In 1868, the British chocolate company Cadbury created boxes of chocolates in the shape of hearts for Valentines Day—called Fancy Boxes—leading to the association of boxes of chocolates with the day.

Valentine's Day cards were first mass produced in the United States in 1847. By the second half of the twentieth century, various other types of gifts were given, such as jewelry. In the United States, 190 million valentines are sent each year. Besides being exchanged between lovers, about half are given to others, usually to children. If school-made valentines are counted, a billion valentines are exchanged each year, and more are given to teachers than anyone else. In the age of the internet, more and more e-cards are being sent.

How to Observe Valentine's Day

Celebrate the day by giving valentines to your loved ones. You could buy some from the store, as is the norm, but writing them by hand will give them more meaning. If you have a significant other, make plans to spend the day with them. Do some of your favorite things together, or try something new. If you are single, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate the day. No matter if you are single or not, there are some films and songs perfectly meant for the day that can be enjoyed by everyone.

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