Holidays and Observances
Traditionally, mid-February was a time to meet and court prospective mates. As early as the fourth century B.C., the Romans engaged in an annual rite to the god Lupercus. The names of young women were placed in a box and drawn by adolescent men. The resulting random matches became companions for the following year. Church fathers, determined to end this pagan fertility rite, selected the martyred Saint Valentine to replace Lupercus. Valentine was imprisoned by the Roman emperor Claudius II for secretly joining young lovers in matrimony. While in prison awaiting execution, Valentine signed a farewell message to the jailer's daughter "From Your Valentine," a phrase that is still used today.

Over time, the Lupercian lottery was replaced with the custom of Roman men offering women their admired hand-written greetings of affection on February 14. As Christianity spread, so did the Valentine's Day card. The earliest card known to exist was sent in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife, while he was imprisoned in the tower of London. Cupid, the naked cherub armed with arrows dipped in a love potion, became a popular valentine image. Cupid is the son of Venus, the Roman goddess of love and beauty.

In China, very few people celebrate Valentine's Day before China adopted the OPEN-DOOR policy. In recent years, as the Western culture infuses itself into China, more and more young people there, especially the college students, start to appreciate this old western custom and make this day a special day to express the love feelings to their beloved. (e.z. modified from `The Community Focus")

Be My Valentine! Origins of the World's Most Romantic Holiday

-- Hearts and flowers, cupids and candy -- today's symbols of Valentine's Day are well removed from the circumstances which launched this annual display of overt affection. Established as a religious holiday, the Feast of St. Valentine honored the Christian martyr who lost his life during the reign of Roman Emperor Claudius II.

According to various historical accounts, Valentine, a holy priest in Rome, was persecuted for his Christian faith and executed on Feb. 14, approximately 270 A.D. His crimes against the Roman Empire differ depending upon the source, but some believe he was arrested for secretly performing Christian marriages despite Claudius' orders to the contrary, while others cite his penchant to assist Christian martyrs in their escape from Roman prisons as his primary offense.

Either way, Valentine became a symbol of love and compassion and was conveniently plucked from obscurity several hundreds of years later when the Christian church gained a stronger foothold in Europe and set about eradicating pagan rituals.

Again, depending on the source, we're told that the Feast of St. Valentine came to replace a mid-February fertility festival called Lupercalia or that it was established to abolish a heathen village custom of boys drawing the names of girls on the 15th of the month in honor of the goddess Februata Juno. Still others claim that sending greetings to loved ones on Feb. 14 dates to the middle ages when it was believed that this day marked the beginning of the mating season for birds.

So there you have it -- crime, passion, forbidden displays of affection -- all the makings of a great love story. No wonder it endures to this day!

Sign Up for our Newsletter