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Love on Valentine’s Day

Red roses by the dozen, cardboard hearts filled with chocolate, a white envelope with a Valentine inside. Today is made for sentimental sweethearts. But what is behind this holiday?

The story is a thorny vine: In Ancient Rome, February 14 was Lupercalia, a mating ritual involving blood from sacrificed animals, whips made from their hides, and the selection by men of virgins by lottery. Centuries later, two Christian martyrs, both named Valentine apparently, were beheaded on the 14th. One had secretly married couples after the emperor, Claudius II, outlawed marriage to maintain his army’s battalions. (I’m not sure what the other did.) Legend even has it that one of the beheaded martyrs had signed a letter penned in his cell “Love, Your Valentine.”

Later, a Saint’s Day marked the exaltation of these martyrs, coinciding with Lupercalia, which the Church had absorbed, in more temperate form, to maintain allegiance to the Vatican. There was also Galatin’s Day in February, in Norman France, for the love of women. Perhaps these days with similar names combined. Then, Chaucer and Shakespeare both noted the day in their writings. In the 1500s the 14th became a day for courtship, and was broadly celebrated into the 17th and 18th centuries. 19th century machinery made Valentine’s Day a booming business, and Hallmark opened in 1910. The rest is holiday history.

Not very romantic. But still and all it’s lovely to have a day to wish those you love your love.

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