St. Valentine is believed to have been a Roman priest who was martyred on this day around 270. How he became the patron saint of lovers remains a mystery, but one theory is that the Church used the day of St. Valentine's martyrdom in an attempt to Christianize the old Roman LUPERCALIA, a pagan festival held around the middle of February. Part of the ancient ceremony entailed putting girls’ names in a box and letting the boys draw them out. Couples would thus be paired off until the following year. The Church substituted saints’ names for girls’ names, in the hope that the participant would model his life after the saint whose name he drew. But by the 16th century, it was once again girls’ names that ended up in the box. Eventually the custom of sending anonymous cards or messages to those one admired became the accepted way of celebrating St. Valentine's Day.
Valentine's Day has been the occasion for such events as underwater weddings and “kiss-ins” and “hug-ins”—in 1999, about 3,000 couples in Belarus attempted to set a new world record for the largest kiss-in (previously held by 1,600 couples in Spain); in 2002 more than 1,000 students and teachers at a South African high school went for the world's biggest hug-in.
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