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By Candy Clarke
Just when you thought you had the holidays behind you! Having survived the sometimes frantic activities and financial expenses of three major holidays: Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years; you probably feel like you can begin to breathe calmly for a change. Not so fast! The game of life isn’t going to let us off the hook that easily. So, take a big deep breath and steel yourself for Feb. 14, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day in western cultures.
Though not recognized as an official holiday in the United States or many other countries; it is, nevertheless, an occasion not to be forgotten. But, no worries, the ever vigilant merchants will make certain you don’t forget. Everywhere, there are reminders: on your computer, your phone, the radio, the television, newspapers, etc.; the list goes on and on. After all, the merchants have your best interest at heart. They know the emotional turmoil involved for you should you overlook Valentine’s Day.
Just where did all of this Valentine’s Day get started? Some historical records indicate a belief that it began around 269 AD by a Christian named Valentine who was persecuted and jailed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II. Refusing to save his own life by converting; Valentine instead attempted to convert Claudius II and his family to Christianity. He failed and was executed. Prior to his execution, Valentine was believed to have healed the blind daughter of his jailer, Asterius. Asterius and his entire household were converted and baptized. Before his death, Valentine is believed to have written a “Valentine” for Julie, Asterius’ daughter.
The heart shaped symbol of Valentine’s Day is also attributed to Valentine, as he was know to “cut hearts from parchment, giving them to soldiers and persecuted Christians.” It wasn’t until the 14th century and Chaucer’s poetry that any romantic connotations were linked to Valentine’s Day.
What happened between then and now? Though, following Chaucer’s example, there were many love poems written; it wasn’t until the introduction of the “mechanical valentine” in 1797 by a British publisher, that the anonymous exchange of valentine cards really took root. By the early 19th century, paper valentines with lace and ribbons were being mass-produced in England. In the United States, a lady from Worcester, Massachusetts, named Esther Howland was responsible for the first massive production of “embossed paper lace” valentines. The practice of exchanging valentine cards continued to grow. Today, the “U.S. Greeting Card Association estimates that approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year in the U. S.” This figure did not include the traditional valentine exchange done within most school systems. It is second, only after Christmas.
The symbols, of the romantic connation’s and Valentine’s Day including the heart-shape outline, doves, and Cupid with bow and arrow, are still prevalent. Today, in western cultures, the traditional paper valentine is more frequently accompanied by gifts of chocolates, flowers, a special dinner invitation, and/or gifts of jewelry.
Despite the commercialization of Valentine’s Day, it is important to remember it is a day to express our appreciation and love for both family and friends. So, take a deep breath and remind yourself how lucky you are to have to have the privilege of buying a valentine for some one special. Enjoy!