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Whether celebrating love or friendship, every February 14 brings an outpouring of emotion as loved ones and friends carry out the time-honored traditions of Valentine’s Day. Cards and gifts, typically flowers and candy, are exchanged and sweet promises and expressions of affection are made. Best of all, getting a Valentine isn’t dependent upon whether you have been naughty or nice. We know that much about Valentine’s Day, but there there’s quite a bit that we don’t know.

We don’t know for sure how Valentine’s Day began. While the Day is celebrated in many other countries around the world as a celebration of love and friendship, it wasn’t always so.

The oldest known written Valentine dates back to England, in 1415. However, other writing reference the custom as far back as the middle ages.  

Stories about the origin of Valentines are plentiful. One version is that the holiday came from the annual Roman festival of Luperci, which culminated in single women putting their name in an urn, and single bachelors choosing a name and becoming paired for the year with a chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.

Exactly why February 14 earned the distinction of being Valentine’s Day is unknown. Some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14 to commemorate the anniversary of St. Valentine’s death or burial, which occurred around A.D. 270. Others claim the Christian church designated St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Luperci, which occurred February 15.

While the reason Valentine’s Day falls on February 14 is a mystery, the practice of celebrating love on Valentine’s Day is widely practiced. In France and England during the Middle Ages, February 14 was considered the beginning of birds’ annual mating season. The English poet Geoffrey Chaucer wrote a popular poem in 1375 celebrating the bird’s migration, linking the two together, and suggesting that St. Valentine’s Day should be a day of romantic observance.

Valentine’s Day celebrations really took off in the 17th century. By the middle of the 18th century, it was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange small tokens of affection or handwritten notes.

In the 1840s, Esther Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines in America. Howland, known as the “Mother of the Valentine,” made elaborate creations with real lace, ribbons and colorful pictures known as “scrap.”

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 period when direct expression of one’s feelings was discouraged. Over time, cheaper postage rates contributed to an increase in the popularity of sending Valentine’s Day greetings.

Today, according to the Greeting Card Association, an estimated 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year (more cards are sent at Christmas). With men having some catching up to do, women purchase approximately 85 percent of all valentines.

The answer to how Valentine’s Day started or exactly why it falls on February is unknown. Having an air of uncertainty over Valentine’s Day seems appropriate somehow as love is, itself, a mystery.

Is there a friend you want to acknowledge? A spouse you want to remind how you feel? Maybe you have a special someone you want to “make yours”? There’s no better time for putting your feelings out into the open.

If you do, you will be carrying on a long tradition, however it started.