Valentine's Day is a festival of romance and affection.
The holiday is another interesting combination of pagan and Christian influences.
Some of the day's customs probably came from an ancient Roman holiday called
Lupercalia, which honored Juno(the goddess of women, marriage, and childbirth)
and Pan (the god of nature). During the Lupercalia festival, young women dropped
poems bearing their names into a large vase. Each young man picked a name from
the vase to find his sweetheart for that year.
During the Middle Ages, church leaders wanted to relate this pagan holiday to Christianity, so they renamed it after a Christian saint and moved the holiday from February 15 to February 14, the feast day of St. Valentine. Since there were eight St. Valentines in the early centuries of Christianity, no one is sure which one the holiday is named after. But historians think
that it was a third-century Christian martyr, a young man who was imprisoned in Rome for refusing to worship pagan gods. According to legend, before Valentines was beheaded on February 14, he restored the eyesight of his jailer's blind daughter. Then he sent her a farewell letter signed, "From your Valentine." This phrase is now a common expression of affection that appears on many of the holiday's greeting cards.
Perhaps another reason that February 14 was selected as a holiday for lovers was that the ancient Romans believed that birds began to mate on this date.
Early in February, card shops, drugstores, and department stores begin displaying a wide variety of greeting cards called valentines. Most of them are illustrated with the symbolic red heart, which stands for love. Many also show a picture of Cupid with his bow and arrow. In Roman mythology, Cupid was the son of Venus, the goddess of love. According to legend, if Cupid's arrow hit a person, the victim would fall in love. Some valentines are very fancy-decorated with paper lace, scented satin, feathers, ribbons, or bows. Some contain affectionate verses, while other simply say, "Be my Valentine." There are special valentines for various family members, sweethearts, and friends.
Grammar-school children usually buy packages of small, inexpensive valentines to give to classmates and teachers. Sweethearts and married couples may exchange more expensive cards, along with small gifts. Men often give flowers or candy in a red heart-shaped box to their girlfriends or wives.
No one knows exactly when the custom of sending valentine cards began, but some historians think it started around 1400. It was brought to the United States by the earliest English settlers and became very popular during the mid-1800s. Today, Americans probably send more valentines than people in all other countries combined. In the U.S.A., more than 850 million valentine cards are sold each year.