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Valentines Day a time for romantics

By: Bill Charles

Date Posted: 2007-02-10

Romance blooms unfettered in February, and seemingly, there is no one exempt from the love bug.

Love flows eternal on St. Valentine’s Day, coming up next Wednesday, and no couple is immune. The history of Valentines Day -- and its patron saint--remains shrouded in mystery. Valentines Day as we know it today contains bits and pieces of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition, and is wrapped in folklore.

Almost everyone would probably agree that Valentine’s Day is the most romantic day of the year. In Western countries, chocolate and flower shops do their briskest business of the year as men buy sweets and flowers to their sweethearts. Count Japan into that buying frenzy as well. Chocolates are a \70 billion industry here, with this lovers’ day accounting for about 16% of annual chocolate sales.

That wasn’t the cases five decades ago, says Kunio Hara, president of Mary Chocolate Co. His was the first Japanese company to embrace the Valentine’s tradition, giving it a shot in 1958, when he managed to sell three bars of chocolate as gifts. The February 14th day here in Japan is a day for women to give their men chocolates, with the reciprocal day, White Day, coming a few weeks later.

Major Japanese confectioners, including Meiji Seika Kaisha Ltd., and Morinago & Co., recognized the lucrative sweets-for-the-sweet market opportunities and jumped in in 1964. Chocolatiers say women even use the Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to make their own chocolates purchases for their own use.

So, who was Saint Valentine, and how did he become associated with this ancient rite? Today, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred.

One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men -- his crop of potential soldiers. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentines actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Another legend portends that Valentine actually sent the first valentine greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl -- who may have been his jailors daughter – who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter, which he signed From your Valentine, an expression that is still in use today.

Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories certainly emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic, and, most importantly, romantic figure. Its no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France.

Regardless of which myth or theory one subscribes to, it is known Valentines Day began in the time of the Roman Empire. In ancient Rome, February 14 was a holiday to honor Juno. Juno was the queen of the Roman Gods and Goddesses. The Romans knew her as the Goddess of women and marriages. The following day, Feb. 15 began the festival of Lupercalia.

The lives of young boys and girls were strictly separate. However, one of the customs of the young people was name drawing. On the eve of the festival of Lupercalia the names of the girls were written on a slip of paper and placed into a jar. Each year boys would draw a girls name out of the jar and would then they would be partners with each other during the festival. Sometimes the pairing of the young people would last a year and they would later fall in love and marry.

Today, Valentine’s Day is celebrated as an expression of affection—or love--between a couple. The tradition transcends countries and cultures, although the question of whether the man sends the Valentine, or whether the female companion generates the special feelings. Charles, the Duke of Orleans sent the first Valentine’s card in 1415 to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Cupid, the essential feature in Valentine’s cards was originally the son of Venus, the Roman god of love and beauty.

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