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Happy Valentine's Day

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Who was St. Valentine?

By some estimations there are more than 30 Saints named Valentine and even a few Valentinas. Several of these Valentines are likely candidates for the saint of the day – although it is also hypothesised that they are in fact one and the same.

The first was a priest who was arrested during the Roman persecutions of Christians who refused to renounce his faith and as punishment was placed under house arrest. Valentine befriended his jailer's blind daughter and it is said restored her sight . According to legend, the priest wrote to the young girl and signed the letter 'from your Valentine'. Once word of the miracle reached the Emperor Claudius II, Valentine was executed. A short lived romance then!

The second, also a priest, the Bishop Valentine of Terni, was a miracle worker too. Known for his ability to heal physical disabilities, a scholar sent for the bishop to heal his only son, who could not speak or straighten his body. After a night of prayer the bishop healed the boy and the family, along with visiting scholars, converted to Christianity. Shortly after the bishop was arrested for his miracles and, after refusing to convert to paganism, was beheaded on the orders of Emperor Claudius II (him again) around 14th February in the year 270 CE.

In the third legend that very same Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage for young men, believing that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families. Valentine, in defiance of the decree, continued to marry young lovers in secret to spare the husbands from war. When his actions were discovered he was (yes, you guessed it) executed!

So is that why we celebrate St Valentine's Day?

Well no. Not necessarily.

It has been suggested that the holiday has origins in the Roman festival of Lupercalia, held in mid-February. The festival, which celebrated the coming of spring, included fertility rites and the pairing off of women with men by lottery. At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I forbade the celebration of Lupercalia and is sometimes attributed with replacing it with a day to celebrate (one of) the martyred St. Valentines, but the true origin of the holiday is vague at best. Valentine's Day did not come to be celebrated as a day of romance until about the 14th century.

So maybe that's one thing the Roman's didn't actually do for us.

When did we start sending cards?

Formal messages, or valentines, appeared in the 1500s, and by the late 1700s commercially printed cards were being used. The oldest known valentine 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 following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library). Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.

And why hearts and flowers?

The first commercial valentines were printed in the mid-1800s. Valentines commonly depict Cupid, the Roman god of love, along with hearts, traditionally the seat of emotion. Because it was thought that the avian mating season begins in mid-February, birds also became a symbol of the day, along with flowers, particularly red roses, a symbol of beauty and love.

Popularised in the Victorian era, lovers exchanged elaborate lace-trimmed cards on Valentine's Day, expressing their undying love and devotion with sentiments and poems.

For those not on good terms, or who wanted to fend off an enemy or unwanted suitor, "vinegar valentines" offered a stinging alternative!

"To My Valentine / 'Tis a lemon that I hand you and bid you now 'skidoo,' Because I love another--there is no chance for you," reads one card. Another depicts a woman dousing an unsuspecting man with a bucket of water. "Here's a cool reception," it warns, telling the "old fellow" that he "best stop away."

Well, hope you all got one of the nice ones and not a brush off! And if you didn't, here's a Happy Valentine's Day wish specially for you.


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