Affairs of the heart. They're tricky. Perilous. Delicious. To die for. And Valentine's Day has a history that's as rich and torrid as love itself. The story dates back to the Roman Empire, when Juno, patroness of marriage and women's well being, was revered each February 14. The Feast of Lupercalia, honoring Lupercus, protector of crops and livestock, began on February 15. On the eve of the feast, young women wrote their names on slips of paper and placed them in urns; young men drew names at random, and the pair would then be coupled during the festival. It has been said that the men pinned the names they drew to their sleeves, which has given us the expression "to wear your heart on your sleeve." Often, these couples would fall in love and later marry.
During the third century, there was considerable strife and political upheaval in the Roman Empire. Claudius II (also known as Claudius the Cruel) was emperor during this time, and he decreed that there would be no engagements and no marriages because he believed a man's happiness at home had a direct impact on the fierceness of the empire's army. Without a wife, Claudius reasoned, his men would have no reason to stay home, and thus he could increase the size of his troops and their hunger for the fight. Despite his decree, the Italian Bishop Valentine clandestinely married young lovers. When Claudius discovered Valentine's secret nuptials, he had him clubbed to death and beheaded on February 14, A.D. 270.
Later, in the fifth century, under the rule of Constantine and amid the advent of Christianity, February 14 was incorporated into the Christian calendar and named, not for the annual pagan harvest festival, but for the Bishop Saint Valentine, who was heralded as a Christian martyr.
If you're intrigued by the origins of love and Valentine's Day, you can find everything your heart desires on any of the web's numerous Valentine's Day sites. Visit Your Valentine and discover the 20 Things You Didn't Know About Valentine's Day. Take the Are You a Dream Date? Quiz, and get the lowdown on the essential love pack for that special someone in your life. Then, see if you can guess when the first recorded Valentine was sent. (Hint: It involves a knight, a maiden, a captivity, a battle, and an exotic location. Of course.)
Never one to shy away from the selling power of love, Hollywood has created its own take on Valentine's Day over at the Universal Studios lot. Word there has it that the maiden who received the first valentine was actually busy when it arrived. Out shopping, no less.
But there's more than just valentine lore on the web. There's also a plethora of great sites where you can find everything from free virtual bouquets to email valentines and animated greeting cards. If you're interested in splashing some hearts on your home page or adding a tasteful valentine motif to your corporate web site, you can peruse the multitude of sites that offer free clip art, graphics, borders, and background images. Here are a few of the most comprehensive sites available: Valentine's Day Clip Art Open All Night has more than 50 links to sites where you can find high-quality images ranging from the vintage to the custom-designed. You can also download animated GIFs, clip art, and much more. Equally excellent is the Mining Company's Guide to Web Clip Art, which has an A-to-Z list of resources for Valentine's Day aficionados. You can find everything you need to soup up your home page or jump-start your corporate site.
For those of you who like to send greeting cards, several great sites offer free email greetings. The most well known is Blue Mountain Arts' Electronic Greeting Cards, where you can find a wide selection of cards for every occasion. Look for the special Valentine's Day section. Another site you're sure to enjoy is Awesome Musical Valentines. While you're in the email mood, you might consider sending a virtual bouquet to your favorite someone.
If you're in the market for something a little more literal, the web offers plenty of Valentine's Day treats to choose from. If your lover is a chocolate fanatic, you might consider Soma Exquisite Chocolate Truffles. Soma's tag line - Ever Been Ravished by Chocolate? - suggests the company understands what it means to be obsessed with sweetness. The truffles are exclusively handmade, and they're rolled and dipped in the finest European tradition.
Equally enticing is Godiva Chocolatier. This year, the confectioner boasts its special Chocolates and Diamond promotion. Purchase any specially marked Valentines Day 1999 gift box, and you could be the lucky winner of a 7-carat diamond ring.
For those of you who seduce your loved ones with flowers, FTD has everything you need to create the perfect moment. It's a cinch to send beautiful, long-stemmed roses with a simple click of your mouse. If you've ever wondered about the language of flowers, FTD offers the full details on the origin and symbolism of roses. Read about the first cultivated roses, which appeared in Asian gardens more than 5000 years ago. Hear the legend that roses blushed with shame as God expelled Adam and Eve from the garden of Eden. Find out what it means when you send red, white, or yellow roses to someone you know. And learn if it's best to send your new date lavender or light-pink roses.
What really matters most on Valentine's Day, though, is that you celebrate with a gift that comes from the heart. A simple card that expresses your feelings will touch those you love more than anything else. If you're at a loss for words, you can seek the inspiration of authors who have a certain way with self-expression. Study Helene Cixous' The Book of Promethea and absorb the rich pleasure of a phrase such as, "I loved you in the darkness at the center of the light."
Then again, if you ingested one too many chalky miniature hearts stamped "Foxy" when you were six, you might be a self-proclaimed Valentine's Day cynic by now. If so, take heart. Celebratory resistance has proven to be a good thing on occasion: In the third century, you'd have kept your head.