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Valentine’s Day occurs every February 14, and across the United States and in other places around the world, candy, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine.
Valentine's Day is a fixed day on the ancient Roman calendar called Lupercalia which some historians believe is what led to Valentine's Day being all about love. Lupercalia celebrated fertility, and may have included a ritual in which men and women were paired off by choosing names from a jar. In Ancient Greece, people observed a mid-winter celebration for the marriage of the god Zeus and the goddess Hera.
Who was Saint Valentine? (And what does he have to do with chocolate hearts?)
Not much, it turns out. Saint Valentine's Day was a feast day in the Catholic religion, added to the liturgical calendar around 500 AD. The day was commemorated for martyred saints named Valentine. Differing legends celebrate three different saints called Valentine or Valentinus, but since very little was known about these men and there were conflicting reports of the Saint Valentine Day story. The feast day was removed from the Christian liturgical calendar in 1969.
Although not much is known about the real history of the Saint Valentines, the legend of Saint Valentine has several tellings. One legend says that Saint Valentine refused to convert to paganism and was executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II. Prior to his death, he was able to miraculously heal the daughter of his jailer, who then converted to Christianity along with his family. Another legend says a bishop called Saint Valentine of Terni is the true namesake of the holiday; this Saint Valentine was also executed.
But according to others (and this is how Saint Valentine became affiliated with a love-focused holiday) Saint Valentine was a Roman priest who performed weddings for soldiers forbidden to marry, because of a Roman emperor edict decreeing married soldiers did not make good warriors and thus young men could not marry. This Saint Valentine wore a ring with a Cupid on it - a symbol of love - that helped soldiers recognize him. And, in a precursor to greeting cards, he handed out paper hearts to remind Christians of their love for God.
Because of this legend, St. Valentine became known as the patron saint of love. The Saint Valentine prayer asks Saint Valentine to connect lovers together, so that two become one, and the couple remembers their devotion to God.
What is the meaning of Valentine’s Day?
Over the years (and centuries), Valentine's Day has been a religious celebration, an ancient ritual day, and a commercial holiday. Today the meaning of Valentine's Day is truly whatever you want it to be: You can skip the celebrations completely, buy yourself some chocolate or flowers, or express your love and appreciation for the people in your life, whether they're co-workers, romantic partners, friends, or family members.
So celebrate the day of love however you want, even if it's just through self-love. A nice dinner out, going to the movies, cooking a fancy meal at home, or hosting a Valentine's Day party are also great ways to celebrate.
As the centuries marched on, poets like Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized San Valentino and his day of love, popularizing and softening the celebration across Europe and eventually the New World.
Today, Valentine’s Day is celebrated all around the world with romantic dinners, meaningful gifts, and – of course – rich chocolate.
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