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This History of Valentine's Day

February 14th is important not just for Tucson jewelers but lovers and couples worldwide.  Valentine's Day is typically the third highest jewelry buying holiday after Christmas and Mother's Day.  My Tucson jewelry store is always flooded with last minute requests for heart pendants from my jewelry collections and ruby earrings and alike.

On February 14 all across the United States and in many other countries around the world, candy, flowers and gifts of jewelry are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine, a mysterious saint from centuries ago.

The history of Valentine’s Day, and the story of its patron saint, is shrouded in mystery. We do know that February has long been celebrated as a month of romance, and that St. Valentine’s Day, as we know it today, contains vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.

Did you know, the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. One legend contends that Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the decree, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.

Other stories suggest that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl, possibly his jailor’s daughter, who visited him during his confinement. Before his death, it is alleged that he wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine,” an expression that is still in use today. Although the truth behind the Valentine legends is murky, the stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and–most importantly–romantic figure. By the Middle Ages, perhaps thanks to this reputation, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France.

In addition to the United States, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France and Australia. In Great Britain, Valentine’s Day began to be popularly celebrated around the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes, and by 1900 printed cards began to replace written letters due to improvements in printing technology. Ready-made cards were an easy way for people to express their emotions in a time when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Cheaper postage rates also contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.

Americans probably began exchanging hand-made valentines in the early 1700s.  According to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year.

Remember, if you're shopping Tucson jewelers for Valentine's or other holiday gifts, start early for the best selection and value.  And please see dozens of my pieces in my custom designs and collections pages.

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