Five things you didn’t know about Valentine’s Day

Graphic by Jenny Park

It’s the season of Valentine’s, and love is in the air. Whether you’re preparing lavish gifts and rose bouquets for your sweetheart or compiling a Spotify playlist of sad songs to cry to alone, you may be curious about Valentine’s Day traditions and how they surfaced. I’m not a love expert, but I can certainly share some interesting facts about this holiday.

1) Was my biology teacher lying?

If you know anything about biology, you know that the hearts we draw look nothing like an actual heart. It is speculated that the shape peppering all Valentine’s Day cards is meant to resemble the seed of a now-extinct plant called silphium, which was used in ancient times as both a food seasoning and a contraceptive. The heart shape became associated with sex, and from there, the connection was drawn to love. Other theories connect the shape to crude drawings of breasts, a butt or — to put it delicately — male sexual organs.

2) Hallmark didn’t create the holiday after all.

Sure, Hallmark has certainly profited from romantic card purchases (we exchange about 144 million cards each Valentine’s Day), but the holiday’s origins extend far beyond the company. According to the most popular legend, St. Valentine was a priest in ancient Rome, who — despite Emperor Claudius II’s ban on marriage for young men — secretly married young lovers. Upon being caught, St. Valentine was sentenced to death. Feb. 14 is thought to mark the day of his execution or burial.

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3) XOXO

Though we may associate it with text lingo, “X” has been used as a kissing symbol since the Middle Ages. People who couldn’t read or write often signed documents with an “X” because it was easy to write. “X”, however, is also representative of Christ because of its resemblance to a cross — people would kiss their signature to show piety. No one really knows how “O” came to represent hugs though; some say it’s simply because it was also easy to write.

4) It’s a popular day for engagements…

As you might expect, many people choose to pop the question on what’s seen as the most romantic holiday. It’s a good choice too, at least for young adults — in a James Allen survey, 43 percent of millennials cited Feb. 14 as the day they’d most like to get engaged. New Year’s Eve came in second with 23 percent of respondents hoping for a ring. Surprisingly, Valentine’s Day boasts only the second-highest number of actual proposals per year; Christmas holds the title as the most popular day to get engaged.

5) …but if you’re alone, you’re not alone!

Fear not, all you singles: In 2016, of all U.S. residents 18 and older, 47.3 percent were single. If that doesn’t comfort you, try showing yourself some self-love: About 15 percent percent of women admit sending themselves flowers on Valentine’s Day, whether it be to impress unknowing onlookers or simply to feel special. But even better than flowers, in my opinion, is stress-eating junk food, and for that, Potbelly Sandwich Shop has you covered. On Valentine’s Day, any customer who comes in without a significant other can get a free cookie!

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Mady Colantes PO ’22 is from Seattle. When not in shock over the lack of rain in Claremont, she enjoys reading and getting too excited over small things.

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