Feb 142011
We buy an estimated 250 million valentines each year based on a myth and a desire to share the love.
According to Wikipedia, there are at least 14 martyred saints with the name Valentine. “Of the Saint Valentine whose feast is on February 14, nothing is known except his name and that he was buried… north of Rome on February 14. It is even uncertain whether the feast of that day celebrates only one saint or more saints of the same name.”
 Saint Valentine of Terni oversees the construction of his basilica at Terni, from a 14th century French manuscript
Wikipedia further states that historian Jack Oruch, cited in the Wikipedia article, has made the case that the traditions associated with “Valentine’s Day”, did not exist before Chaucer. He argues that the speculative explanation of sentimental customs, posing as historical fact, had their origins among 18th-century antiquaries. 

One legend, found on History.com, contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men — his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other History.com stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured.

According to one History.com legend, Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl — who may have been his jailor’s daughter — who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. It’s no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.
In Great Britain, History.com goes on to tell us, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers in all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology.

Ready-made cards, states History.com, were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings. Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland began to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America. 

And now we’re up to 250 million sold – and that doesn’t count hand-made cards or cardless gifts.
Happy Valentine’s Day.

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