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The Man Behind Valentine’s Day and Traditions

With his box of chocolates, Valentine Teddy is ready to celebrate the most romantic day of the year, Saint Valentine’s Day. Celebrated worldwide, legend claims that Valentine was a priest serving Rome during the third century. 

The Emperor, Claudius the Second, felt that single men made better soldiers than those with a wife and family. The Emperor made marriage illegal and forbade priests across his empire to conduct marriages to build his army. Valentine defied the Emperor, continuing to perform marriages for young couples in secret.

Claudius discovered Valentine’s actions, condemned him, and demanded he be sentenced to death for his actions. While in jail awaiting his execution, young couples arrived at the jail, throwing cards, flowers, and letters to his window. One of his visitors was the Jailer’s daughter. She shared with Valentine that he had done the right thing in marrying the couples and standing up for love. The day of his execution, he left her a note thanking her for her words and friendship and signed the letter, “With Love from Your Valentine.” The execution of Valentine took place on February 14, 269 A.D. He became a martyred saint, and the tradition of a feast is held in his honor.

Before the 19th century, love notes were called “valentines” and exchanged mutually to honor Valentine and remember his brave actions. These love notes were lavishly handwritten with heart-shaped outlines and symbols of love like Cupid and doves. Passionate poems beautifully written in calligraphy honored Saint Valentine.

By 1847 the machine-printed card became a popular alternative, and in the 19th Century, Great Britain popularized the tradition even further. 

In the United States, the credit for giving the first Valentine Cards goes to Miss Esther Howland. While attending Mt. Holyoke College, she received her first English Valentine in 1847. Fascinated by its beauty, she imported lace and floral decorations and took orders. The interest was so high that Howland gathered friends and took out an ad in the Worcester Spy on February 5, 1850. The demand continued to grow and brought in an income of 100,000 annually, allowing Howland to sell her business to the George C. Whitney Company and retire in 1881.

The most popular gifts for Valentine’s Day are chocolate boxes, teddy bears, perfumes, and jewelry.

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