Remember your friends on Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a romantic holiday. A day when lovers around the world give chocolates and fancy cards to each other.
The day is named after St. Valentine, the patron saint of lovers, who was martyred Feb. 14, 269 A.D.
St. Valentine lived during the reign of Emperor Claudius II in Rome. Claudius was an unpopular and cruel ruler and, as a result, had a difficult time getting soldiers to join his armies.
He was sure the reason was because Roman men did not want to leave their wives and families. So Claudius decided to outlaw all marriages and engagements.
In spite of this cruel law, St. Valentine went on performing marriage ceremonies in secret. And, consequently, the kind priest was thrown in jail and sentenced to death.
Before he was beheaded, the priest wrote a note to the daughter of a prison guard thanking her for her friendship and loyalty. He signed the note “Love from your Valentine.”
That was in 269 A.D. More than 100 years later, in 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius set aside Feb. 14 to honour the patron saint and instituted the holiday of St. Valentine to replace a pagan love feast of Lupercalia, which the Romans celebrated on Feb. 15.
From that day to this, Valentine’s Day has been surrounded with superstitions and customs.
According to one old superstition, if a woman saw a robin on Valentine’s Day, she would marry a sailor. If she saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy. If she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a millionaire.
Flowers on Valentine’s Day appeared in 17th-century France. And Britain’s Queen Victoria sent over 2,500 valentines during her reign. But it was 19-year-old Esther Howland who introduced valentines in the United States.
A contemporary of Emily Dickinson, Howland enjoyed the annual Valentine’s Day festivities as a student at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Then after graduating in 1847, she received a beautiful valentine from England.
Howland came from a prosperous family, who owned a retail stationery store. She immediately spotted a business opportunity and began importing paper lace and floral decorations from England to make valentines.
To her surprise, there was a big demand.
An entrepreneur at heart, Howland hired some of her friends to help. She began advertising in 1850 and sent samples to New York City with her brother. He came home with $5,000 in card orders—a huge sum at that time.
In order to meet the demand, she set up an assembly line in her father’s house. Howland’s elegant valentine cards were available to anyone. Her prices ranged from five cents to $50.
Over the years, Howland built a thriving business. When she sold the business in 1881, her valentine card sales had reached $100,000 annually.
After her death, she was called “The Mother of the American Valentine.” And the Greeting Card Association created an annual Esther Howland Award.
Because of Esther Howland, almost one billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year.
How about you? Are you remembering your family and friends this Valentine’s Day with cards or chocolates? Or better yet, follow the custom of the people in Finland, who celebrate Valentine’s Day by being especially nice to their friends.
Marie Snider is an award-winning health care writer and syndicated columnist. Write her at or visit

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