The romantic tales behind the year's most romantic day

Every Feb. 14, Americans exchange cards decorated with hearts, lace, cupids, and flowers. But surprisingly little is known about the man after whom the day is named. Here is some information about St. Valentine and his day.

Who was St. Valentine?

Valentine was a priest who lived in Rome during the 3rd century AD. At that time, Christianity was a persecuted faith. In 270, Emperor Claudius II ordered St. Valentine to be arrested and imprisoned. When he would not recant his faith, Valentine was put to death.

Why is Valentine's Day associated with romance?

Feb. 15 was a Roman celebration, to honor the pagan god Lupercus. On that day, young women would write love notes and deposit them in a large urn. The young men of Rome would take the notes out and then court the women whose message they had drawn. When Christianity became the official religion of Rome, the church merged the Roman holiday with Valentine's martyrdom.

Why do valentine cards end 'From your valentine'?

Legend explains that when St. Valentine was imprisoned, he met the blind daughter of his jailer. He offered prayers for her healing, and the girl's sight was restored. A friendship was forged. On the night of his death, he wrote the girl a farewell message and signed it, 'From your Valentine.'

Why is 'X' associated with a kiss?

This custom dates back to the early Christian era, when a cross mark, or an 'X' conveyed the force of a sworn oath. The cross referred to both the cross of Calvary and the first letter of the Greek word for Christ, Xristos. In days when few people could write, the signature X was a legally valid mark. To emphasize their complete contractual sincerity, people often kissed the 'X' when an oath was sworn upon it. This practice of kissing the 'X' led to its becoming the symbol of a kiss.

How did Valentine's Day come to the United States?

Valentines came to the US with the earliest English settlers. John Winthrop, governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony wrote to his wife on Feb. 14, 1629, 'Thou must be my Valentine.' Initially, the early colonists were so busy making a new life, they did not have time for valentines.

As the years passed, however, valentines became more common. During the winter, when farming could not be done, many young men made valentine cards. When Feb. 14 arrived, the men folded their valentines, sealed them with wax, and personally delivered them. Mail in Colonial times was expensive and irregular.

Who developed America's first commercial valentines?

Esther Howland of Worcester, Mass., is credited with developing America's Valentine's Day cards in 1847. That year she sold an astonishing $5,000 worth of fancy, colorful cards. Soon other manufacturers were producing cards. Today, more than one billion valentine cards are sold each year, according to the Hallmark Greeting Card Co.. With the exception of Christmas, Americans exchange more cards on Valentine's Day than at any other time of the year.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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