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A Brief History of Valentine's Day
Valentine's Day is celebrated on February 14th each year. It is a day for lovers to express their love for one another and admirers to declare their interest.

Like many modern holidays, Valentine's Day has evolved from both pagan and Christian influences. It is named after St. Valentine, but there are at least 3 St. Valentines recognized by the Catholic Church, who lived in the 3rd century and probably had some influence on the day we now celebrate. There is also good evidence of pagan festivals of fertility being observed in mid-February way before this time period.

Popular Valentine's Day legend tells of how St. Valentine defied the Emperor of Rome, who had banned marriage for his young soldiers, by performing secret marriage ceremonies for young lovers. It is said that the Emperor imprisoned and later executed St. Valentine for his actions. Related tales of St. Valentine tell of how, while incarcerated, he fell in love with the blind daughter of his jailer. He is said to have performed a miracle in restoring her sight and to have written her the first 'valentine' love note. Both Valentine of Rome and Valentine of Terni have been credited as being the St. Valentine of this legend, but there is unfortunately no evidence that either one of them performed these activities.

It is commonly thought that the Church sought to abolish pagan festivals and rites by replacing them with Christian holidays and that St. Valentine was an appropriate candidate to assume the mantle of love and fertility. Hence, Valentine's Day was officially established in the 5th century. However, there is no direct evidence that St. Valentine's holiday was a romantic one until a 14th century reference in a poem by Geoffrey Chaucer. This reference is now thought to be targeted at another Valentine (the Bishop of Genoa), whose saint day was in May, but the confusion appears to have cemented the relationship between February 14th and romance.

Since Chaucer's poem, the name Valentine evolved to become a noun representing a message of love or the sender or recipient of such a message. It became a tradition for lovers to sign messages of love 'from your Valentine'. The earliest surviving example of such a Valentine 'card' was sent in the early 15th century by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife. It was written during his imprisonment in the Tower of London, following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt.

Valentine messages were initially passed among the courting and married members of the English upper classes, but they increased in popularity until the exchange of cards on Valentine's Day became a common tradition in England by the 18th century. It took until the middle of the 19th century before there was widespread circulation of Valentine cards in the US. Gradually, the tradition of handwritten notes of affection has given way to mass-produced greeting cards and more recently to electronic messages, in some cases.

Since the latter half of the 20th century it has become more common to present and exchange gifts for Valentine's Day as well as cards. Initially the gifts were also intended to convey the message of love and would include heart-shaped pillows, teddy bears, red roses, or many hand-made, personalized gifts. More recently however, almost any gift is acceptable as a Valentine's Day gift, including electronic devices, diamond jewelry or even cars.

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