By Dick Martin
What's the second most popular event of the year after Christmas?
It's Feb. 14, that magic day when young swains send cards and often candy to their lady love, and married men mend fences with a cluster of fragrant flowers and usually more candy for their wives.
It's a time for romance, time to let someone know you like them, time for the birds to sing and bright red hearts to turn up everywhere.
But did you ever wonder how this February event came to be?
Most of us think that St. Valentine's Day is a recent event, perhaps dreamed up by someone who had a crush on a young lady and wanted her to know it, but the event goes back much further into history than that.
Many historians think that Valentine's Day originated in ancient Rome when people observed a holiday on February 14 to honor Juno, the queen of Roman gods and goddesses. The Romans also revered Juno as the goddess of women and marriage.
On the following day these early people celebrated the fertility festival called "Feast of Lupercalla." which honored the god of agriculture, and normally sacrificed a goat for ferility and a dog for purification to Juno.
If you're wondering where the name Valentine entered the picture, legend has it that during the reign of Emperor Claudius II, Rome was involved in several bloody and unpopular campaigns. Claudius found it tough to get soldiers and believed that the reason men didn't want to join his army was because they didn't wish to leave their wives and children. So, he cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome.
A priest named Valentine defied the unjustified order and secretly married couples. He was caught, beaten, and put to death on February 14. After his death he was named a Saint.
Valentine cards came to be (perhaps) because while Valentine was in prison he fell in love with the jailers blind daughter who visited him often. Before his death he wrote a farewell letter to his sweetheart and signed it, "From your Valentine."
Sound familiar? By the Middle Ages, the saint assumed the image of a heroic and romantic figure, and finally Pope Gelasius declared February 14 as St. Valentine's Day.
Real valentine cards came into existence much later, around the 1500's, and by the 1700s people were sending printed cards with lace and paper flowers to each other. The first American valentines were sold in 1849 by Esther Howland in Massachusetts. She made 12, gave them to her brother to see how they'd sell, and he came back with $5,000 in orders for more.
There are lots of other stories and legends about this day of romance and love.
Again, during the Middle Ages people in England and France held a belief that birds started looking for their mates on February 14.
And over the same time, St. Valentine became the patron saint of lovers who began to celebrate the day as a day of romance by exchanging love notes and simple gifts such as flowers.
It took a long time to arrive on America's shores, this celebrating of a saint and his day, but by the 19th century British settlers had brought the custom here.
The first mass produced Valentine's Day cards are said to have been produced shortly after 1847 by one Esther Howland of Worcester, Massachusetts.
And giving gifts like chocolate and flowers became popular around the same time, usually given by a man to a woman.
Currently, February 14 has become one of the years most popular events.
If you or your loved ones are not into candy, flowers or jewelry, consider giving of yourself. Take the time to phone or visit a loved one. Small acts of kindness are always appreciated.
For many, a hug and kiss are the most treasured gift of love.
Loved ones appreciate both.