Why we celebrate it on February 14
istock/poikeFebruary 14 is the feast of St. Valentine, a Catholic saint who was executed by Roman Emperor Claudius II on that date sometime during the third century A.D. Many legends surround the reason for his death sentence. The most popular one says he was a priest who married young couples after Claudius outlawed marriage for young men (apparently they were better soldiers when they weren’t romantically attached). Another says he helped save Catholics who were imprisoned for their religious beliefs. However, the holiday may have been promoted to overshadow the pagan festival Lupercalia. Between February 13 and 15, Romans celebrated by sacrificing a goat and a dog and whipping women with their hides. Crude as it may seem, people believed this made women more fertile, and women actually lined up to get slapped with bloody hides. In the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I outlawed Lupercalia and officially declared February 14 Valentine’s Day.
Why we call people “Valentines”
istock/squaredpixelsDon’t worry, there’s a good reason we rename our sweethearts to that of a beheaded priest. Legend has it that when St. Valentine was in prison, he prayed with the daughter of one of his judges and cured her blindness. Before his execution, he wrote her a letter, signing it “From your Valentine.” Whether or not this was a romantic gesture is up for debate. Nevertheless, the signature caught on and is still used to show affection.
Why we draw hearts the way we do
istock/arndt_vladimirIf we were anatomically correct when we drew hearts, the result would be a complex clump of valves and muscles. While the shape we’re more familiar with is a lot easier to draw, no one really knows the origin of the heart shape. One possibility is that it resembles the now-extinct plant, silphium. Once found in the African city-state Cyrene, the plant was used as food coloring, a cough syrup, and most notably, a contraceptive. The shape’s association with sex eventually turned into one of love. The other suggestion is actually anatomical in nature. Some have thought the shape to be a representation of breasts, buttocks, sexual organs, or an inaccurate depiction of a real heart.
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Why we give out roses
istock/denkuvaievBack in the Victorian era, people expressed their emotions through floriography, or the language of flowers. Giving a certain kind of flower conveyed a specific message, and red roses meant romance. Today, they carry that same symbol of romance—and they’re really cheap. The U.S. buys huge quantities from large farms in Columbia and Ecuador, where cost of labor is low. Then they’re transported on refrigerated planes and arrive stateside in just three or four days. The reason these summer flowers bloom in February? Growers control what temperature they’re stored at to make them open in time for Valentine’s Day. Here’s what different rose colors mean.
Why we wear red
istock/jasmina007Red has long been considered the color of passion and sexuality, and science can now confirm it. A study by University of Rochester psychologists found that men viewed women wearing red or standing in front of a red background as significantly more attractive and sexually desirable than women wearing or standing in front of different colors. Women felt the same way about men wearing red. The color also symbolizes confidence, spontaneity, and determination—all important factors in a romantic pursuit.
Why we eat chocolate
istock/cclickclickIf you get a box of chocolates this Valentine’s Day, thank Richard Cadbury. After he and his brother took over his family’s chocolate manufacturing business, he discovered a way to extract pure cocoa butter from whole beans and added it to the company’s chocolate drink. The process produced more cocoa butter than expected, so he put it in “eating chocolate” as well. Then, in a business ploy that would change the industry, Cadbury started designing beautiful boxes for his new chocolates, including special Valentine’s Day ones with cupids and roses. It’s believed that he made the first heart-shaped candy box, even though he didn’t patent it.
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Why we send cards
istock/flyparadeIn the middle of the 18th century, giving out handwritten notes and other signs of affection was a common Valentine’s Day custom in England. As printing technology improved, handwritten messages soon gave way to ready-made cards. They were easy to fill out while still feeling sincere, and low postage rates made them cheap to send. The practice reached America in the 1840s when Esther Howland, a student at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, decided she could make cards as pretty as the British ones. She started the New England Valentine Co. and made $100,000 in annual revenues, earning the title “Mother of the American Valentine.” Now, approximately 114 million cards are sent out each Valentine’s Day. This is what your Valentine card choice says about you.
Why Cupid is a symbol of love
istock/alessandro0770Before he was called Cupid, the Greeks called this heavenly figure Eros, the god of love. He was considered somewhat of a sex symbol since he could woo humans and gods with his unnaturally good looks. According to Greek mythology, Cupid had two arrows, gold to make people fall in love and lead to make people hate each other. The Romans added him to their mythology as Cupid, the son of Venus, who was the goddess of love. During the Rennaissance, artists painted Cupid as a putto, a cherub that resembled a naked child. Unfortunately for Cupid, that depiction stuck and was a popular image on early valentines. So much for the sex symbol.
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