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How to Celebrate the History of Valentine's Day

Historians disagree on how February 14 became associated with love, leaving you free to borrow whatever rituals you want from the holiday's rumored roots.


  • Step 1: Read a poem Read "The Parliament of Fowls" by Geoffrey Chaucer. The 14th-century poem was inspired by the romance between Richard II and Anne of Bohemia. In it, Chaucer declared May 3 -- the couple's engagement date -- an official day for lovers; the date also happened to honor St. Valentine. In 1400, Queen Isabel of France reportedly changed this day honoring lovers to February 14.
  • TIP: The Catholic Church recognizes several different saints named Valentine.
  • Step 2: Send a love letter Handwrite a love letter, sign it "from your Valentine," and have someone else slip it to your love. According to one popular legend, the holiday is in honor of a Catholic priest named Valentine who was put to death in the 3rd century for defying the Roman emperor's ban on performing marriages for soldiers. Before he died, Valentine supposedly smuggled a love letter to his jailer's daughter, with whom he'd fallen in love.
  • Step 3: Paint a Valentine Give your Valentine a card that you make and paint yourself. Until an enterprising American woman named Esther Howland created a set of commercial Valentine's Day cards in the 1840s, they were handmade, and most were hand-painted.
  • TIP: Esther Howland made $5,000 the first year her Valentine's Day cards were available -- a fortune at the time.
  • Step 4: Wear your heart on your sleeve Wear your heart on your sleeve. Beginning on Valentine's Day, display the name of your love on your sleeve for a week. The expression comes from the Middle Ages, when this tradition was practiced.
  • Step 5: Gather single friends Not attached? Throw a singles party based on the ancient Roman fertility festival Lupercalia. Held every February 15, single men and women were randomly matched by pulling names from an urn, according to legend. In 498 A.D., Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine's feast day -- some believe to usurp the pagan ritual. The festival included sacrificing a goat, but putting out a nice cheese platter would probably suffice.
  • FACT: England's King Henry VIII made Valentine's Day an official holiday in 1537.

You Will Need

  • "The Parliament of Fowls
  • Handwritten love letter
  • Hand-painted card
  • Heart on a sleeve
  • Singles party

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