Red, romance -- and Romans? The origin of St. Valentine's Day - KWWL - Eastern Iowa Breaking News, Weather, Closings

Red, romance -- and Romans? The origin of St. Valentine's Day

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WATERLOO (KWWL) - Feb. 14 is canvassed with red roses, heart-shaped balloons and chocolates galore. Ladies (well, men, too), prepare to be bombarded with every shade of pink and red imaginable. Love is in the air and so are dollars, as gentlemen shell out the big bucks for the perfect bouquet.

But why is Valentine's Day all about love? Where did the name come from?

The tales can be a tad muddled, but historians attribute the sappy saturation to a man named St. Valentine. The story dates back to ancient Rome in the third century.

University of Northern Iowa History Professor Dr. Jay T. Lees said Valentine was a bishop whose main interest was helping Romans to be married. Consequently (and after a sticky situation with an emperor), Valentine ended up in prison.

During his jail time, Lees said Valentine fell in love with the jail master's daughter.

"He writes her a note expressing his affection for her, and he ends it by saying, 'From your Valentine.'"

Romantic festivals also took place on Feb. 15, and according to historians, Romans picked one of the closest days to that date to deem St. Valentine's Day.

That explains the name for the passion-laced holiday. But why all the commercialization?

Dr. Lees said the Valentine's Day card is to blame, which skyrocketed in popularity in the mid- to late-1800's. Back then, cards were much bigger and more expensive; one card could cost a love-struck fellow up to $35.

Once these took off, the rest was history.

"Well, then you're going to give your expressions of love, and I'm guessing here, but chocolate is sometimes seen as an aphrodisiac -- maybe that played into it," Lees said.

Flowers followed in the frenzy's footsteps, and now V-Day is practically supercharged with sex, sweets and superfluous spending.

According to the National Retail Federation, the average American is expected to spend $133.91 this Valentine's Day, pumping an anticipated total of $17.3 billion into the economy.

But who knows what's in store for the holiday's future?

A National Retail Federation survey found 54 percent of people plan to celebrate Valentine's Day this year, and that's down from the 60 percent oflove-struckk participants last year.
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