Today is Valentine’s Day, the day on which we celebrate love and especially romantic love. This day is linked to Greco-Roman February holidays devoted to fertility, in particular, the festival of Lupercalia. The romantic overtone of the holiday is in commemoration of St. Valentine, a Roman priest who was martyred on February 14 in 269 A.D. It’s worth noting that there are many different Christian martyrs named “Valentine,” and until 1969, the Catholic Church recognized 11 different Valentine’s days.
Thousands of couples will exchange gifts signifying their affection for one another, including chocolate, flowers, and of course, greeting cards. One hundred eighty-eight million Valentine’s Day cards will be given today, making February 14 the second most popular card-giving day of the calendar year, finishing right behind Christmas.
The tradition of exchanging love notes on Valentine’s Day originates from the martyr Valentine himself. The legend maintains that due to a shortage of enlistments, Emperor Claudius II forbade single men to get married in an effort to bolster his struggling army. Seeing this act as a grave injustice, Valentine performed clandestine wedding rituals in defiance of the emperor. Valentine was discovered, imprisoned, and sentenced to death by beheading. While awaiting his fate in his cell, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with the daughter of a prison guard, who would come and visit him. On the day of his death, Valentine left a note for the young woman professing his undying devotion signed “Love from your Valentine.”
Stolen from The Writer’s Almanac (2/14/08).