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February 13, 2016

The average U.S. consumer is expected to spend $133.50 on Valentine’s Day gifts, meals, and entertainment, according to an annual Retail Federation survey. Most married Americans with children will spend money on their spouses. The remainder will go to Valentine’s Day gifts for their children, friends, co-workers, or pets.

Greeting cards will be the most common Valentine’s Day purchases. Fifty-two percent of American consumers plan to send at least one. According to the Greeting Card Association 195 million Valentine’s Day cards will be sent. That figure does not include the hundreds of millions of cards schoolchildren exchange.

Giving your sweetheart a Valentine’s Day card is a tradition. The first Valentine’s Day card was sent in 1415 from France’s Duke of Orléans to his wife when he was a prisoner in the Tower of London.

Valentine’s Day cards were originally handwritten notes, which gained popularity in the U.S. during the Revolutionary War. Mass production started in the early 1900s. Hallmark produced their first Valentines in 1913. Since then the market for Valentine’s Day cards has blossomed.

The National Confectioners Association estimates that nearly one half of U.S. consumers will exchange Valentine’s Day candy, totaling a sweet billion dollars in sales. About 75 percent of that billion will be from sales of chocolate. Chocolate has been associated with romance since Mexico’s Aztec Empire. Fifteenth-century Aztec emperor Montezuma believed that eating chocolate made him more virile, a priority for a man with an extensive harem.

Valentine’s Day, the lovers’ holiday, traces its roots to a raucous annual Roman festival. In ancient Roman mythology, Juno was the goddess of love and marriage.  Her feast day was celebrated on February 15.  Each year the Romans conducted a three-day party called Lupercalia, which was, in essence, an early version of the “Dating Game.” Eligible young men and women, who were single but old enough to be married, gathered for the celebration, complete with plenty of food, wine, and the inevitable matchmaking.

Couples brought together during Lupercalia were often struck by love at first sight.  The Romans believed that fluttering invisibly in their midst was the lesser god Cupid who fired his arrows indiscriminately.  They thought that an unsuspecting subject struck by Cupid’s arrow would fall in love with the next person who came into view. Interestingly, marriages often resulted from the matchmaking at Juno’s feast.

The pagan festival remained popular well into the fifth century A.D., years after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The Christian church changed the festival to the feast day of St. Valentine.

In the third century A.D. Roman Emperor Claudius II, seeking to bolster his army, forbade young men to marry. A young priest named Valentine disobeyed the ban by performing marriages in secret. During the persecutions of Christians under Claudius, Valentine visited those who were in prison, giving them comfort and consolation.

Because of his defiance of the emperor, Valentine was beheaded on February 14, 270, during the Feast of Lupercalia; Valentine was martyred on the altar of the goddess Juno.  Later canonized by the church, he became known as Saint Valentine.

St. Valentine’s Day in our culture has become a time to express romantic love with chocolate, flowers, and heart-shaped cards. But there is more to genuine love than candy and roses.

That love is defined beautifully in I Corinthians 13.

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never fails….And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

In the spirit of St. Valentine, February 14 ought also to be a time to express a deeper love, love for all people, especially those who are suffering.

So how will you celebrate St. Valentine’s Day?

By all means give your sweetheart a box of chocolates, a bouquet of flowers, or a carefully selected card. But in the true spirit of Saint Valentine, also consider making a contribution to TOTAL ministries, to the Soup Kitchen, to St. Luke’s Free Clinic, to Greater Spartanburg Ministries, to Miracle Hill Rescue Mission, to the Spartanburg Interfaith Hospitality Network, to Habitat for Humanity, to Hope Center for Children, to Mobile Meals, to The Children’s Advocacy Center, or to any one of the many charities that care for those in need.

This Valentine’s Day, let’s celebrate, not only our love for those special people in our lives, but for all those whom God loves. That includes everyone.

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