Valentine's Day is associated with love, especially a romantic love, that is celebrated with gifts of flowers, candy or other more modern gifts such as collectibles, stuffed animals with sentimental messages, signs or other tokens of affection.

But the true origin of Valentine's Day remains a mystery clouded with various tales that are sometimes not expressions of love as we know it today.

According to one legend, there were actually three saints named Valentine or Valentinus. One Valentine saint lived during the third century but defied Roman Emperor Claudius II who banned marriage, believing that single men would be better soldiers than married men. Valentine reportedly continued to marry young couples, which cost him his life when Claudius learned about it.

Others credit Saint Valentine of Terni for that act rather than the Roman saint, although Valentine of Terni was also beheaded under Claudius II.

Another Saint Valentine is believed to have helped Christians escape Roman prisons, with the legend that the imprisoned man sent a message to the jailer's daughter who visited him while he was in jail. This Valentine reportedly signed the letter "From your Valentine."

Other stories surrounding this day of love include the celebration of Lupercalia, a fertility festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture, Faunus an the Roman founders, Romulus and Remus. That celebration was held on February 15 and revolves around the sacrificial practice of a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. The goat's hides would be cut into strips and the Roman priests would go into the streets, slapping the women and crop fields in hopes of making them more fertile. Later that day, all the single women would put their names in a large urn, with the single men choosing a female to be paired with for the year. Many marriages evolved from this pairing.

Another story is that Lupercalia was outlawed as Christianity rose in popularity and it was deemed "un-Christian." But in the 5th century, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 at St. Valentine's Day, although it was not then considered to revolve around love. But February 14 was believed to begin the birds' mating season in France and England, which accented the belief that the day should commemorate romance.

Valentine's Day continued to grow in popularity and by mid-1800s, notes or tokens of affection were commonly distributed. Americans began the tradition in the early 1700s, with Esther A. Howland being the first to sell mass produced valentines adorned with lace, ribbons and pictures.

• Information for this article came from History.com.

njohnson@sentinel-echo.com

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