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Valentine's Day Scrubs

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Every February, flowers, chocolate, and gifts are exchanged between loved ones -- all in the name of Saint Valentine. But who is this saint and why do we celebrate this holiday? The history of Valentine's Day is shrouded in mystery. But we do know that February has long been a month of romance. St. Valentine's Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition. 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 Valentinus or Valentine -- all of whom were martyred.

The first theory claims that Valentine was a priest serving in 3rd century Rome. When Claudius II, the emperor, declared that single men made better soldiers than married men with children, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied the emperor and continued to perform secret marriages for young lovers. When Valentine's actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that Valentine be executed.

Another theory suggests that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons where they were often beaten and tortured. According to another legend, Valentine may have sent the first 'valentine' greeting himself. While in prison, it is believed that Valentine fell in love with a young girl - possibly his jailor's daughter - who frequently visited him during his sentence. Before his death, he allegedly wrote her a letter, signed 'From your Valentine,' an expression that is still in use today!

Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is unclear, the stories certainly build his appeal as a heroic, sympathetic and, most importantly, romantic figure. It's no surprise that by the Middle Ages, Valentine was one of the most popular saints in England and France. Some believe that Valentine's Day is celebrated in mid-February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine's death.

In Great Britain, Valentine's Day began to be celebrated in the seventeenth century. By the middle of the eighteenth century, it was common for friends and lovers across all classes to exchange tokens of affection and handwritten cards. By the end of the century, printed cards began to replace hand written notes. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one's feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also drove an increase in the popularity of Valentine's Day cards. Americans probably began sending homemade valentines in the early 1700s. In the 1840s, Esther Howland sold the first mass-produced valentines in America.

According to the Greeting Card Association, about 1 billion valentine cards are sent every year, making Valentine's Day the 2nd biggest card-sending holiday - second to the estimated 2.6 billion cards that are sent for Christmas. Approximately 85 percent of all valentines are purchased by women. In addition to the United States, Valentine's Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, and Australia.

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