Why do we celebrate Valentine's Day?
By Dan McLaughlin
If you are lucky enough - or indeed unlucky enough - to receive a Valentine's Day card today, you are one of approximately 150 million to undergo the ritual - making it the second most popular card-sending holiday after Christmas.
Cupid competes with Claus when it comes to expense, too. In the UK, around £1.3 billion is spent yearly on cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts by just under half of the population.
The celebration is named after Valentine, but it's tricky to figure which one the Catholic Church means. The Church recognises at least three different martyred saints named Valetine or Valentinus, according to History.com.
One possibility is a priest who served during the third century in Rome. Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II, marriage was outlawed for young men because the Emperor believed single men made better soldiers than those committed with wives and children. Valentine performed marriages for young lovers in secret and when the ceremonies were discovered, he was beheaded.
Valentine is, unsurprisingly, the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages. He is also the patron saint of less romantic things: beekeeping, epilepsy, fainting, and the plague.
We may also get our idea for the Valentine's greeting from a tale about his incarceration. He fell in love with a young love, possibly his jailor's daughter, when he was in prison. Before his execution, he wrote a letter to her signed, "From your Valentine", an expression still in use today.
The day dates back to the Roman holiday, Lupercalia, held on February 15. It was the fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. During the celebrations, boys would draw names of girls from a box and the pair would be partners during the festival.
Valentine's Day itself may have been the creation of The Canterbury Tales writer, Geoffrey Chaucer. There is no actual record of Valentine's Day before Chaucer's poem, Parlement of Foules, in 1375. The medieval poet links the tradition of courtly love to the St Valentine's feast day: "For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day / Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate".
As you open one of the millions of cards sent every year, perhaps not feeling so special after all, remember the origins of the day of romance: a beheaded priest who proved that love does not conquer all, as he tends to beekeeping and the plague in sainthood.