Love, Cupid, hearts, chocolates, cards and flowers are everywhere - it's Valentine's Day! On February 14, Americans celebrate love and friendship. But where did this holiday of affection come from?
The origins of Valentine's Day are murky. We do know that the ancient Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia, a spring festival, on the 15th of February. With the introduction of Christianity, the holiday moved to the 14th of February - the saint day that celebrated several early Christian martyrs named Valentine. But somewhere along the way, Valentine's Day came to represent romance.
The romance we associate with Valentine's Day may spring from the medieval belief that birds select their mates on February 14th. During the Middle Ages, human lovebirds recited verse or prose to one another in honor of the day. "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" wrote William Shakespeare. And poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning expressed love this way:
How do I love thee; let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach...
"Will you be my Valentine?" Nowadays, people often ask this of their loved ones in greeting cards. Probably the first greeting cards, handmade valentines, appeared in the 16th century. As early as 1800, companies began mass-producing cards. Initially these cards were hand-colored by factory workers. By the early 20th century even fancy lace and ribbon-strewn cards were created by machine.
Today, approximately 55% of Americans celebrate Valentine's Day, spending an estimated $18.2 billion each year. Over $1.7 billion is spent on candy alone. Around 141 million Valentine's Day cards are exchanged annually. 220 million roses are purchased each year. 9 million Americans purchace cards or gifts for their canine companions. On average, men spend $150 on Valentine's Day, while women spend $74.