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Love, flowers and goat-meat floggings:
The colorful history of Valentine's Day

Source: Society of American Florists
What does it take to create the perfect Valentine's Day?

It takes nothing more than a little bit of love and an awful lot of money. According to Unity Marketing, a marketing consulting firm based in Stevens, Pa., American men and women will spend an average $135 each on gifts for Valentine's Day this year -- dinners and romantic outings excluded.

Where did it all begin?
Valentine's Day holds its place in history as a magical holiday when flowers and chocolate are exchanged, promises of love are made, and centuries ago single women were flogged in the street with raw goat meat.

They do what with the goat?
In the Christianization of cultures, ancient celebrations were often replaced by Christian holidays. Some claim that this is the case with Valentine's Day, which falls around the time of the pagan Lupercalia festival.

Lupercalia, like many great ancient rituals, included a good old-fashioned goat slaughter.

The goat meat was cut into strips, dunked in sacrificial blood and then used to lightly slap women and crops, a ritual that was supposed to make them more fertile. According to legend, single women would then place their names in an urn. Bachelors of the city would draw a name out of the urn and the couple would be paired for the year.

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In the fifth century, Pope Gelasius named Feb. 14 Valentine's Day, for one of several Catholic saints named Valentine. Various stories surround St. Valentine, one that he loved a jailer's daughter and another, more popular story, that he secretly married soldiers to their lovers during a time of war when the soldiers were forbidden to marry.

Red hearts and paper doilies
A prisoner in the Tower of London wrote the oldest existing valentine. Charles, Duke of York, wrote the poem in 1415 for his wife after his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. Four centuries later, in the 1840s, the first mass-produced Valentine cards were sold in America.

The Valentine card you give my not be as historically ground-breaking -- but chances are your heart's desire won't know the difference. Unless, of course, you forego the giving of a Valentine altogether -- which really isn't financially necessary. Very pretty cards can be purchased for about $3 or sent via e-mail for free.

What's that scent?
As most romantics know, men give flowers on Valentine's Day -- a lot of flowers. Valentine's Day is the top sales day for florists, according to the Society of American Florists. And, men purchase more than half of the flowers sold. The most popular flower in the Valentine bouquet is the rose, accounting for 57 percent of cut flower sales. And around this time of year, roses carry a steep price -- $50 to $90 for a dozen.

A sweeter gift
While men seem to bear the burden of the floral purchases, they are by no means left empty-handed on this holiday. This year, an estimated 36 million heart-shaped boxes of chocolate are expected to be sold for Valentine's Day in the U.S., according to the National Confectioners Association. If that's any indication of what's to come, there should be plenty of happy men this Valentine's Day -- because a recent survey conducted by the Chocolate Manufacturers Association says 50 percent of women plan on giving their man chocolate.

Boxes of chocolates have a history in the U.S. going back to 1868, when Richard Cadbury introduced the first decorated chocolate box with a picture of his daughter holding her kitten painted on the lid. It would take 44 years of chocolate poking -- the act of pushing open the bottom of a chocolate to see what's inside -- before the brilliant introduction of the Whitman's Sampler -- the first box of candy with its own diagram in the lid listing the filling for each candy.

While a gift of boxed chocolate is certainly romantic, the Whitman's company says it can actually trace some of its boxes directly to several marriages. During World War II some of the female factory workers slipped notes of support into the tins heading overseas to the American forces.

After writing letters back and forth to one another during the war, several of these pen pals ended their correspondence at the altar. While the chocolate you buy for your sweetheart this year can't guarantee such a romantic ending, it's definitely a step in the right direction.

Do I have to?
It's not necessary to break the bank to prove your love -- but that doesn't mean you can skip the holiday altogether. In fact, if you're a man who wants to hold onto his honey, beware -- half of the women surveyed by Match.com said receiving nothing for the holiday could be grounds for a breakup. So consider it payback for the goat-meat flogging and don't forget the flowers.

 

-- Updated: Feb. 7, 2005
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