He Lived and Died for Love: the Real Story behind Valentine's Day

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This Valentine's Day you will probably either send or receive a Valentine from someone. More than a billion are expected to be given away in the United States alone.

Who gets Valentine cards? According to Hallmark Cards, people receive them in this order: teachers, children, mothers, wives, and sweethearts. The Hartz pet food company says that 3 percent of pet owners will even give a Valentine gift to their pets.

If you're like me, whenever Thanksgiving rolls around you picture the Pilgrims and the Indians sitting at a table breaking bread together. It's the story behind the holiday that provides the spirit of warmth.

When it comes to Valentine's Day, there is also a true life story behind the holiday, and it has a lot to teach us about the true meaning of love, sacrifice and commitment.

In the third century, the Roman Empire was ruled by Emperor Claudius II Gothicus. He was nicknamed Claudius the Cruel because of his harsh leadership and his tendency for getting into wars and abusing his people. In fact, he was getting into so many wars during the third century that he was having a difficult time recruiting enough soldiers.

Claudius believed that recruitment for the army was down because Roman men did not want to leave their loves or families behind, so he canceled all marriages and engagements in Rome. Thousands of couples saw their hopes of matrimony dashed by the single act of a tyrant. And no one seemed interested in standing up to the emperor.

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But a simple Christian priest named Valentine did come forward and stood up for love.

He began to secretly marry soldiers before they went off to war, despite the emperor's orders.

In 269 AD Emperor Claudius found out about the secret ceremonies. He had Valentine thrown into prison and deemed that he would be put to death.

As Valentine was awaiting execution, he fell in love with a blind girl, who happened to be the jailers daughter. On the eve of his execution, with no writing instruments available, Valentine is said to have written her a sonnet in ink that he squeezed from violets. Legend has it that his words made the blind woman see again. It was a brief romance because the next day Valentine was clubbed to death by Roman executioners.

St. Valentine gave his life so that young couples could be bonded together in holy matrimony.

They may have killed the man, but not his spirit. Even centuries after his death, the story of Valentine's self-sacrificing commitment to love was legendary in Rome. Eventually he was granted Sainthood and the Catholic Church decided to create a feast in his honor. They picked February 14 as the day of celebration because of the ancient belief that birds (particularly lovebirds, but also owls and doves) began to mate on that very day.

It's surprising to know that Valentine's Day is really founded on the concept of love in marriage.

On This Valentine's Day, what are you doing to keep the love in your marriage burning?

While giving a gift and card, having a candlelight dinner, and sharing special words of love are all important, the true spirit of Valentine's Day needs to last throughout the year.

Here are some ways to bring more love into your marriage:

  • Schedule priority time together. Pull out your calendars and set a date night every week or two--just to spend time together and talk. (Note: movies don't count.)
  • Laugh together. When was the last time you shared a funny story and chuckled with each other? Loosen up and laugh freely. Live lightheartedly!
  • Play together. Find a hobby or activity you both enjoy--fishing, bowling, tennis, hiking, or biking.
  • Be romantic together. Send your spouse a note of encouragement in the mail every once in a while just to say "I love you." Spend one or two weekends away each year, just with your wife. (No buddies allowed.)

While Valentine's Day is a good time to put a spark back into your relationship, the only way to fan the flame of a good relationship, is for every day to be a Hallmark moment.

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