Honoring Love — It’s Valentine’s Day

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I think adults probably fall into three categories when it comes to Valentine’s Day: those who love it because they’re in a relationship, those who hate it because it reminds them they’re not in a relationship and those who simply ignore it. I would place myself in the latter category — but I didn’t always feel that way.

I’ve been single and unattached for a long time, but I was part of a couple for some Valentine’s Days, and a few stand out in my memory. When I was living in Denver, shortly before moving to California to live with a boyfriend, I received a dozen long-stemmed red roses at the office from him on Valentine’s Day. For the first and only time, I was one of the women who had gorgeous flowers to display on her desk. It still brings a smile to face to remember that.

When the following Valentine’s Day rolled around, my boyfriend went all out, showering me with chocolates and flowers, filling the living room with red and pink balloons, and taking me out to a romantic dinner. Alas, that would be the last time he made that much effort.

Another Valentine’s memory that sticks with me was with a new guy, and we hadn’t even been dating that long. He made reservations for us at a San Francisco hotel, showered me with gifts that included a lot of lingerie and took me out for a great dinner. Unfortunately, that was probably the high point of our short relationship.

Since then, Valentine’s Day is just another day on the calendar for me. I was pleasantly surprised a few years ago when my sister sent me a bouquet of purple flowers to mark the occasion; I initially thought the delivery guy had the wrong address, but the blooms’ color — my favorite — were a dead giveaway. And, I always send Valentine’s greetings to my niece and nephew, either cards with a check inside or chocolate-covered strawberries.

Fortunately for me, and others without a significant other, Valentine’s Day has been somewhat broadened in scope, making it a day to celebrate not just love, but friendship as well.

St. Valentine would be stunned at the holiday that shares his name. How much do you know about Valentine’s Day? Read on.

A Short History

You may have heard this before: St. Valentine was not a lover or patron of love. Valentine’s Day originated as a ceremonial feast to celebrate the decapitation of at least one — and maybe two — third-century Christian martyrs. The love connection appeared more than a thousand years later, when author Geoffrey Chaucer proclaimed that the February feast of St. Valentinus honored the mating of birds.

In Chaucer’s day, English birds paired off to produce eggs in February, something that led nature-minded European nobles to send love notes during bird-mating season. For example, the French Duke of Orléans wrote to his wife in February 1415 that he was “already sick of love” (lovesick.) And, he called her his “very gentle Valentine.”

The English embraced the idea of February mating, and in the following centuries, they began using Feb. 14 as an excuse to pen verses to their loves. With industrialization came the mass-production of illustrated Valentine’s cards and then the chocolate-makers got involved, marketing sweets for sweethearts on Valentine’s Day.

Americans began celebrating Valentine’s Day in the 19th century, but it didn’t become really popular until the following century — led by schools. It’s still common for elementary school kids to exchange Valentine’s cards. Each kid makes a special box, and every student in the class puts a small Valentine’s card in it. Special class sets of Valentine’s cards are available to streamline the process.

Valentine’s Day cards are also popular with adults, the traditional kind that are placed in envelopes as well as e-cards, which make it really simple and quick to express Valentine’s wishes to anyone — even if you only remember to do so midday on Feb. 14. In addition to chocolates, flowers and jewelry, anything heart-shaped is big on this day, even pizza. And, in typical over-the-top American style, more than 20% of pet owners do something special for their furry friends for Valentine’s Day.

Around the World

Like any other holiday, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in a variety of ways around the globe. Here are just a few of them.

Argentina — One day isn’t enough for these passionate people. In addition to focusing on “el amor” on Feb. 14, they also devote an entire week in July to a festival of love, Sweetness Week. Lovers exchange kisses for candy, the weeks ends with a day devoted to friendship.

China — The Qixi festival, celebrated for centuries, originates from a folklore tale of two star-crossed lovers. A cowherd and king’s daughter are forced apart and only allowed to reunite on one day a year: the seventh day of the seventh month in the Chinese lunar calendar. During the festival, couples go to temples and pray for prosperity, and at night they look to the heavens as the stars Vega and Altair (representing the lovers) pass close by each other on their annual reunion.

Japan — Ladies spoil the objects of their affection with chocolates on Feb. 14 – and it’s the type of chocolate given that counts. For husbands, boyfriends, or prospective boyfriends, high quality honmei-choco (true feeling) chocolates are hand-delivered, while colleagues or acquaintances receive giri-choco, the cheaper “obligation chocolate.” Those who are unlucky — or not liked — may end up with a box of cho-giri choco, ultra-obligation chocolate reserved for the most unpopular male colleagues.

The Philippines — Every year on Feb. 14, hundreds or even thousands of couples come together in public places to be married at the same time. The celebrations often are sponsored by the government as a public service, allowing underprivileged couples the opportunity to tie the knot.

South Africa — Many South Africans celebrate the day of love with chocolates, flowers and candlelit dinners in romantic locations with their special someone on Feb. 14. But, for times when a subtle anonymously signed card doesn’t do the trick, South Africans don’t mind wearing their heart on their sleeve — literally. Following an old-age Roman festival called Lupercalia (considered the predecessor to Valentine’s Day), young girls pin the name of their love on their sleeve for the day. Luckily, this is a much tamer version of the original festival, when goats were sacrificed and men would run through the streets wearing the skins, whipping women to bless them with fertility.

Wales — Rather than professing their love on Valentine’s Day, romance is celebrated on Jan. 25, St. Dwynwen’s Day, named for the Welsh patron saint of lovers. Eschewing the traditional flower and chocolate combo, young men opt for presenting intricately carved wooden “love spoons” to their sweethearts. This centuries-old tradition was inspired by sailors in the 16th century who hand-carved presents for their loved ones while at sea.

How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day this year or do you have a Valentine’s memory you’d like to share? We’d love to hear from you.

Please check out our Holiday History videos to learn more about the holidays.

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