History of Valentine’s Day

Every year on Feb. 14, millions of people exchange sentiments and symbols of love to those they cherish. But what started it all?

There are several legends about exactly who St. Valentine actually was. Some say he was a Roman priest in the third century who, against Emperor Claudius II, married soldiers and their lovers in secret. Legend says he was jailed and put to death once Claudius caught on.

Others say he was a man in love – and in jail. He sent love letters to the jailer’s daughter, writing “your Valentine” on them.

Another legend states St. Valentine was a Christian who refused to abandon his beliefs during the Roman era, and was put to death for his devoutness in the year 269 A.D.

Whichever myth you choose to believe, St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers, and is now celebrated across the globe annually on Feb. 14.

Valentine’s Day is full of symbols and traditions. Cupid was said to be either the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love or the son of Eros, the Greek god of love. At caboose.com, mythology says Cupid was mischievous, wounding gods and humans with his bow and arrow, causing them to fall in love.

Valentines began circulating in the 15th century in Europe, but didn’t make it to the United States until the 1800s. Pictureframes.co.uk says that the greetings commercially circulated shortly after Esther Howland sent the first ones in America.

Pictureframes.co.uk listed many other Valentine’s Day traditions. In Wales, wooden spoons were carved and given to loved ones. These spoons were decorated with hearts, keys and locks, and were meant to say, “you unlock my heart.”

People drew names and wore them on their shirtsleeves for a week in the Middle Ages. This is where the idiom, “wear your heart on your sleeve” originated. Today it means your emotions are easily seen.

At kidsdomain.com, turtledoves are said to choose their mate each year on Feb. 14. These birds mate for life, so they are known as a symbol of fidelity. They are now also a symbol of the holiday.

Other Valentine’s traditions include twisting the stem off of an apple, and whichever letter of the alphabet the stem breaks off on is the first letter of the name of the person you will marry. If you cut an apple in half on Valentine’s Day and count the seeds inside, it is said to be the number of children you will have.

Today, flowers and chocolate are among cards and other popular gifts for Valentine’s Day. Roses are most commonly given, as red is the color of love and passion. A bouquet of red, pink and yellow roses means love, admiration and joyfulness.

Chocolate came from the Mayans and Aztecs who grew the cacao beans and made a cold drink from them called “xocoatl.” After the Spanish found the new world, they brought the beans back to Europe with them. At hersheys.com, it says the first chocolate factory in America was founded in 1765 in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, and with that chocolate found its way into diets across the globe.

Chocolate and Valentine’s Day go hand in hand as the tempting sweet is said to be an aphrodisiac. Scientists recently discovered that chocolate possesses a stimulant called phenylethylamine, which is known to cause the euphoric feeling a person gets when they are in love (Chocolatemonthclub.com also said that “cheddar cheese, salami and pickled herring all contain more PEA than chocolate.” Imagine that!).

This Valentine’s Day, go traditional in your gift giving, or be creative. But don’t forget the chocolate!

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