What's the Origin of Valentine's Day?

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Several tales have taken root as the cultural heart of Valentine's Day, most of which stem from the patron Saint Valentine.

One legend describes a priest named Valentine who lived during the third century in Rome. The Roman Emperor Claudius II was building up a military at the time and supposedly thought single men would make better soldiers. To build a stronger army, the emperor outlawed marriage for young men. Feeling this sweetheart ban was unjust, Valentine apparently performed secret marriage ceremonies . When found out, legend has it the love priest was put to death.

A slight twist to the tragic love story has the priest or bishop being publicly beheaded for refusing to denounce the name of Christ. His feast day was set as Feb. 14 by the Church to honor his heroic life.

Valentine's name was not associated with romantic and courtly love until the 14th century, when Geoffrey Chaucer incorporated St. Valentine’s Day into his love poem "The Parliament of Fowls," according to Philip Florio, assistant to the vice president of student life at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia.

The ensuing Valentine's Day has been linked with heroism and romantic love for centuries. Flowers , candies and syrupy-sweet cards help men and women profess their love for one another.

In 1868, Richard Cadbury released the first Valentine's Day box of chocolates , followed in 1902 with the first "conversation" hearts from the New England Confectionery Company. In the 1840s, Esther A. Howland created the first commercial Valentine's Day cards in the United States. In 1913, the Hallmark Company produced its first Valentine card.

Can't buy love? Tell that to the retail industry and hearty buyers. In 2011, the average consumer will spend $116.21, with total Valentine's Day spending expected to reach $15.7 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Our pets will surely feel the love this V-day, with the average person spending $5.04 on their furry friends, according to the NRF.

Greeting cards still remain a popular gift choice, accounting for nearly 55 percent of Valentine's Day gifts, followed by candy and flowers.

For a cosmopolitan Valentine's, here's how to say "I love you" in other languages.

  • Italian: Ti amo
  • French: Je t'aime
  • Spanish: Te amo
  • Farsi: Dooset daram
  • Swahili: Naku penda wewe
  • Thai: Phom rak khun
  • Mandarin: Wo ai ni

Another sweet way to profess your love, albeit briefly, is through a pastel conversation heart. The New England Confectionery Company produces them from late February through mid-January of the following year. That entire production sells out in just six weeks, equalling about 100,000 pounds (45,360 kg) a day. In the early 1990's, the company decided to update the sayings every year, retiring some dated terms in the process. The first updated –and now retired– phrase was "Fax Me," and current phrases include "Text Me," "Friend Me," "Tweet Me" and "You Rock."

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Jeanna Bryner
Live Science Editor-in-Chief

Jeanna served as editor-in-chief of Live Science. Previously, she was an assistant editor at Scholastic's Science World magazine. Jeanna has an English degree from Salisbury University, a master's degree in biogeochemistry and environmental sciences from the University of Maryland, and a graduate science journalism degree from New York University. She has worked as a biologist in Florida, where she monitored wetlands and did field surveys for endangered species. She also received an ocean sciences journalism fellowship from Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.