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The Surprising Origins of Valentine’s Day

In the United States, Valentine’s Day is a holiday that celebrates love and romance (think chocolates, flowers and teddy bears). In fact, Americans spend around $18.2 billion/year on the holiday. Some people love it, some hate it – but how did Valentine’s Day really get so popular, and where is it originally from?

Photo courtesy of Storify

In order to fully understand the history of Valentine’s Day, one must go all the way back to ancient Rome. There are two legends about how Valentine’s Day came to be. The first claims that the original St. Valentine was a Christian priest who lived in Rome in the third century. When Emperor Claudius II needed more single men for the Roman military, he outlawed marriage for young, military-age men. Valentine, who believed that this was unjust, disregarded Claudius and continued marrying couples in secret. When the Emperor discovered what St. Valentine was doing, he ordered that he be put to death by beheading.

If you thought that was creepy, an even darker legend on the existence of Valentine’s Day also exists. An ancient, pre-Christian Roman fertility festival called Lupercalia was said to be the original Valentine’s Day, where men and women drank wine and sacrificed goats and dogs to a she-wolf or lupa that was said to be the mother of Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome.

Valentine’s Day eventually evolved, and became more popular and more romantic. Valentine’s greetings were said to be exchanged as far as Medieval Times, and now the holiday has become much more popular in the United States. Valentine’s Day is also celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the UK, France and Australia. No matter where you are, the next time you pick up a Valentine’s bouquet or box of chocolates, remind yourself of the origins of this popular Western holiday!

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