Updated: February 7, 2017
On February 14, people around the world exchange cards, flowers, and gifts – all in the name of St. Valentine. Want to know more about the “patron saint of love” and the holiday that bears his name? Here are seven fun facts about the sweetest day of the year.
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The History of Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is a popular social holiday that celebrates love. But what’s the story behind the holiday? How did it begin?
Some sources claim King Henry VIII declared the first Valentine’s Day in 1537 England. Others cite an earlier time, when a Roman named Valentinus showed heroic love for God and the Church. Still others point to the holiday’s pagan roots.
History (an American TV channel) says Valentine’s Day began as a religious holiday. It bears the name of a Christian martyr but has Roman pagan origins.
7 Valentine’s Day Fun Facts
Today, Valentine’s Day is more of a secular holiday than a religious one. It centers on love, affection, and friendship. In the United States, it’s the most commercial holiday after Christmas and Halloween.
In whatever way you choose to celebrate – chocolate truffles, anyone? – here are seven Valentine’s Day fun facts for you to ponder.
1. The Valentine Legend
The Roman Catholic Church recognizes at least three saints named Valentine. The one we remember on Valentine’s Day became a martyr on February 14, AD 278.
The stories about him vary, and the truth behind them is murky. But the Valentine legend affirms his appeal as a heroic and romantic figure.
2. Historical Pagan Roots
Valentine’s Day likely originated with a pagan party called Lupercalia. The ancient Romans celebrated this fertility festival on the Ides of February (mid-month).
It is also likely Valentine’s Day was an attempt by the Church to “Christianize” Roman pagans. The Church used the occasion to peg the raucous party to the Valentine legend.
3. Your Heart on Your Sleeve
In the Middle Ages, unmarried men and women drew names to discover their Valentine. For one week, they wore these names pinned to their sleeves so all would know their true love.
Smithsonian says the phrase “wear your heart on your sleeve” may originate with this tradition. Other sources credit the expression to Shakespeare.
4. Sealed With a Kiss
The link between kissing and the letter “X” may have ancient origins. The 24th letter of our modern English alphabet has long been a Christian symbol.
Blind and illiterate people used the symbol to sign documents – then kissed it as a sign of sincerity. Sealed with a “kiss of faith.”
In time, “X” signified a different kind of kiss – one that’s romantic in nature. Today, “sealed with a kiss” means written or sent with love. The initialism, SWAK, often adorns love letters.
5. Box of Chocolates
Richard Cadbury introduced the first heart-shaped box of chocolates in 1861. In 1907, Milton Hershey introduced “kisses” in the shape of teardrops. So began the marriage of chocolate and Valentine’s Day.
As chocolate consumption grew in Europe and America, doctors discovered health benefits. Some Victorian era doctors even advised patients to eat chocolate for a “broken heart.”
Today, chocolate is a popular Valentine gift AND a heart-healthy treat (in moderation). Chemicals in cocoa beans called flavonols lower the risk of heart disease.
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6. Flowers of Love
Roses are the flowers of love. American florists sell and deliver 200 million roses on the days leading up to Valentine’s Day.
Statistics show that men make up 73 percent of Valentine flower sales. Most of them buy red roses for the women they love.
7. Be My Valentine
According to greeting card statistics, Americans exchange 145 million Valentine cards every year. This lovely holiday is the second most popular greeting card occasion after Christmas.
Do you exchange Valentine cards with your loved ones? Vintage valentines are my favorite cards to send. I like to include Bible verses about love, such as John 3:16:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.
– Gospel of John
Now it’s YOUR turn to chime in and show off your knowledge! What Valentine’s Day fun facts can you add to the list above?
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Annette R. Smith
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Author’s Note: This article was first published in February 2016. I have updated the content for accuracy and freshness.