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A World of Valentines

By STORY BY Ben Valencia
Dec. 29, 2010 at 6:43 a.m.


Messages of love span the centuries, and are interwoven with culture and history to create a very moving view of people and what it was like during their time in history.

    But how did Valentine's Day become such a reveled day? Celebrating love and affection. Curly pink ribbons. Fuzzy red hearts. It's what Valentine's Day is all about... these days. Cards exchanged in the name of Saint Valentine.

    But how did it all start and how did it all evolve into the big hubub it is today?  Who is this mysterious saint and how did he become associated with this ancient rite on Valentine's Day? The history of this day of love and it's patron saint are cloaked in mystery.

    We travel back to third-century Rome. One legend has it that Valentine was a priest. During that time, Emperor Claudius II made the grave decision that single men made the best of soldiers, so he outlawed marriage for young men.

    Realizing this injustice, Valentine defied the emperor and continued to marry young couples. When Claudius found out about Valentine's defiant acts, he ordered that Valentine be put to death.

    According to some historians however, Valentine may have been killed for helping Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured.

    There are other legends that suggest that Valentine actually sent the first "valentine" greeting himself while in prison. It is believed, that during his tenure in prison, Valentine fell madly in love with a girl- a girl who just so happened to be the jailer's daughter. Legend has it that the girl would visit Valentine often. It is said that before his death, he wrote the young girl a letter and signed it "From your Valentine," an expression that we can find in many greeting cards today.

    Although the truth behind the Valentine legend is unclear, the many stories and legends portray Valentine as a romantic figure, and by the Middle Ages, he was one of the most popular saints in England as well as France.

    Valentine's Day holds separate meanings for different people. While some believe Valentine's Day is celebrated to remember the anniversary of Valentine's death or even his burial, others have the idea that the Christian church possibly decided to celebrate the day in the middle of February to  somehow "christianize" ancient pagan celebrations.

    One in particular was the pagan Lupercalia Festival. In ancient Rome, the month of February marked the beginning of spring. It was also a time for "purification." Houses were ritually cleansed and sacrifices were made as with any ancient Roman festival. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman God of Agriculture, Faunus. The Lupercalia festival was later abolished, and around 498 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as Valentine's Day.

    All in all, valentines began to work their way into society around the 18th century, when it became common for friends and lovers from all backgrounds to exchange momentos of affection or handwritten letters. Printed cards became more common by the end of the century, replacing written letters. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions during a time when direct expression of emotions was discouraged.

    According to some historians, Americans most likely began exchanging Valentine's Day cards in the early 1700s. Esther A. Howland, "The Mother of the Valentine,"  was the first person to sell the first mass-produced valentines in America in the 1840's. The operation of making these beautiful laced and embossed cards led to a thriving business that grossed $100,000 annually. Howard retired and later sold her empire. One of the oldest-known Valentines ever written and still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, duke of

Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London, which followed his capture at the battle of Agincourt.

    An estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, which makes Valentine's Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, and about 89 percent of valentines that are purchased are purchased by women according to the Greeting Card Association.

    And where does the little mischievous winged child called Cupid fit into the whole love triangle? Cupid emerges from Roman legends as the son of Venus, the goddess of love and beauty. Cupid has become a modern symbol of Valentine's Day.

<span style="text-decoration: underline;"><em>Similar days honoring love around the world</em></span>

<strong>Europe</strong>

In Europe, Valentine's Day has various regional customs. In Norfolk, Jack Valentine could knock on your door, leaving sweets and treats for children, while in Wales many people celebrate St. Dwynwen's Day on January 25. (St. Dwynwen is the patron saint for Welsh lovers.)

    In France, which happens to be a Catholic country by tradition, Valentine's Day is simply referred to as "St. Valentin." It is celebrated much the same as in other western countries with cards, chocolates and frilly valentines.

    In Finland, Valentine's Day is known as "Friend's Day," which is a day for remembering not only your loved ones, but also your friends.

    Sweden also has its own take on Valentine's Day referring to it as 'All Heart's Day' which was created in the 1960s. That is a look at just a few different regional customs in Europe.

    Despite the many different regional customs, cards are still the norm for the UK along with gifts, chocolates and flowers.

<strong>Middle East</strong>

In Iran there is a similar celebration of Valentine's Day, however it has nothing in common with Saint Valentine. Iranians celebrate love, friendship and earth. The only thing that this celebration has in common with Valentine's Day is  a superficial similarity  in giving affection and gifts to loved ones.

    Egyptians, however, do celebrate Valentine's Day on February 14  as well as Egyptian Love Day on November 4, when they buy gifts and flowers for their lovers.

<strong>Mexico, Central and South America</strong>

In most South American countries a sort of Valentine's Day is celebrated. In most of these countries, the day is referred to as "Dia del Amor y la Amistad." It is common to see flowers, cards, gifts and chocolates around Valentine's Day in these countries as well.

    Guatemala dubbs it "Dia del Carino" or Day of Affection. People in Brazil celebrate something similar. However it is celebrated in early June when couples exchange gifts, flowers, chocolates and cards, much like it is celebrated in the United States.

<strong>Asia</strong>

Valentine's Day is celebrated in some Asian countries including China, Singapore, Japan and South Korea to name a few. In South Korea, women gift chocolate to men on February 14. One will find that in China, men send flowers and chocolate to the woman they love. Traditional Chinese Valentine's Day is held in July, however the Chinese also celebrate Valentine's Day on February 14 of the solar calendar. In the Phillipines, Valentine's Day is called Heart's Day. Most of these countries however would not celebrate Valentine's Day if it weren't for a concentrated marketing effort to attract tourists from the United States and other countries that do celebrate the day.

Valentine's Day has become a world affair. Cards, chocolates and roses from New York to Paris, from Taiwan to Brazil. It is in fact a world of Valentines.

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