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Be My Valentine

14/02/2012

Valentine’s Day is one of the days of the year in the United States when people celebrate romance. But most people do not know the history of this day they associate with heart-shaped boxes of chocolate, flowers, and engagements.

Valentine’s Day, like Halloween, started off as a pagan holiday. At ancient Roman festivals,men stripped naked, grabbed goat- or dog-skin whips, and spanked young maidens in hopes of increasing their fertility. The annual celebration, called Lupercalia, was held every year on February 15 and remained wildly popular well into the fifth century C.E. —at least 150 years after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.

It is only later that the  holiday became associated with a  Catholic priest named Valentinus. In the third century A.D. Roman Emperor Claudius II, seeking to bolster his army, forbade young men to marry. Valentine, it is said, flouted the ban, performing marriages in secret. For his defiance, Valentinus was executed in C.E. 270—on February 14.

Another legend has it that Valentinus, imprisoned by Claudius, fell in love with the daughter of his jailer. Before he was executed, he allegedly sent her a letter signed “from your Valentine.”

When did Valentine’s Day become associated with romantic love?

It was not until the 14th century that this Christian feast day became definitively associated with love. According to UCLA medieval scholar Henry Ansgar Kelly, author of Chaucer and the Cult of Saint Valentine, it was Chaucer who first linked St. Valentine’s Day with romance.

In 1381, Chaucer composed a poem in honor of the engagement between England’s Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. As was the poetic tradition, Chaucer associated the occasion with a feast day. In “The Parliament of Fowls,” the royal engagement, the mating season of birds, and St. Valentine’s Day are linked:

For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, 
When every fowl cometh there to choose his mate.

Valentine’s Day is said to have been brought to North America in the 19th century by British settlers.

In the United States, Valentine’s Day has become such a popular holiday that people spend more than $14 Billion in retail sales on it. The average person spends more than $100 on the holiday – on gifts, meals, and entertainment. Greeting cards are the most common Valentine’s Day gifts – about 190 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year. That figure does not include the hundreds of millions of cards schoolchildren exchange.

How did greeting cards become so popular?

The first Valentine’s Day card was sent in 1415 from France’s Duke of Orléans to his wife when he was a prisoner in the Tower of London following the Battle of Agincourt.

Valentine’s Day cards—mostly handwritten notes—gained popularity in the U.S. during the Revolutionary War. Mass production started in the early 1900s. In 1913, a company called Hallmark started putting out Valentine’s Day cards, and since that time, the company has developed cards for everyone from parents to children, siblings, and friends.

In addition, more than a billion dollars is spent each year on Valentine’s Day candy.  About 75 percent of that billion is from sales of chocolate, which has been associated with romance at least since Mexico’s 15th- and 16th-century Aztec Empire. But just as popular are the small, heart-shaped candies known as sweetheart conversation hearts, with messages such as “BE MINE”, “KISS ME”, “SWEET TALK”, “I HOPE” and others.

Some people in the United States think that Valentine’s Day has become too commercial. Others embrace it and do everything from wear red to have parties to send greetings to everyone they know. It is also a popular day for men to propose to women, and for people to get married.

Although popular as a holiday, Valentine’s Day is not a public holiday, so all government buildings are open on that day.

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