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A short history of Valentine’s Day

Many people know that Feb. 14 was once a day when Catholics celebrated the life of St. Valentine, a third-century Christian martyr. But how did it transform into a holiday that celebrates romantic love?

Some scholars point to Geoffrey Chaucer, who authored “The Canterbury Tales” during the Middle Ages. He wrote, “For this was on seynt Volantynys day. Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make” (for this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird comes to choose his mate”).

European nobility began sending love notes during “mating season,” and eventually the trend caught on. The mass production of Valentine’s cards eventually secured the tradition.

In the intervening centuries, the celebration of Valentine’s Day grew to include not just romantic interests, but friends and schoolmates. In the 1900s, the holiday began to be widely celebrated in schools, thanks in part to marketing efforts by Hallmark. Perhaps you helped your child decorate a shoebox to use as a mailbox for their collection of Valentine’s cards.

As the popularity of the secular holiday grew, the influence of St. Valentine diminished. In 1969, the Catholic Church removed the feast of St. Valentine from the liturgical calendar, largely because little is known about the third-century priest. However, he is still considered a saint of the church.

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