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Merritt: The holiday of the heart, the celebration of love, just what we need right now

What the world needs now is — you guessed it — love, love, and more love.

Maybe that’s why I look forward to Valentine’s Day even though decorations and cards can be as cheesy as a Hallmark TV segment (that I watch anyway), or as commercial as Christmas, Mother’s Day and Halloween — all of which I’m sucked into. My husband, on the other hand, doesn’t appreciate the holiday as I do, though he always sends me flowers followed by a night out to dinner. (Momma’s gotta be happy.)

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Can’t help it. I love hearts and the color red, so much so that I recently spent hours shopping online. Viewing pages and pages of possible gifts for my children, in-laws, and grandsons, I loaded up my Amazon shopping cart with heart strewn socks, slippers adorned with giant hearts, and peanut butter and chocolate heart shaped candy. For extra fun, I even placed two gift orders for heart-decorated toilet paper.

This year, I wondered how this heart holiday began and discovered online a few tidbits about its origin that produced much trivia and several legends. Here’s an interesting one.

The Roman emperor, Claudius II, ruled during 270 AD. He believed that married men became weak soldiers because of their emotional attachment to their families, so he banned them from marrying to ensure their military strength.

Bishop Valentine saw the injustice of this, it is said, and secretly performed marriages for young couples. He was later discovered and executed. Having become martyred, Valentine became one of the most popular saints during the Middle Ages in England and France. Hence, St. Valentine’s Day, the cultural, religious and commercial celebration of love and affection that’s celebrated throughout the world.

More trivia. One of the earliest valentines was sent in 1415 AD by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife during his imprisonment in the Tower of London. The card is now preserved in the British Museum.

During the 18th century, gifts and handmade cards adorned with lace, ribbons, hearts and cupids were exchanged in England. (I still have stashed away a handmade valentine from the 1800s — adorned with flowers and cupids — that I found in my grandmother’s Bible.)

Did you know that “vinegar valentines” were sent during the Victorian Era to discourage unwanted suitors? There were also known as “penny dreadfuls,” the cards were insulting and disparaging. (Of course, terrible tweets are the modern mouthfuls on Twitter.)

Commercially made valentines appeared during the 1840s, and were produced in the United Stats. The Greeting Card Association states that 24% of all cards sent each year are valentines and approximately 190 million valentines are sent each year.

“Call me,” “Miss you,” and “Kiss me,” are among the messages we receive that are printed on “Sweethearts,” the heart-shaped candies that turn up in numbers at elementary school Valentine parties and many other celebrations.

Oliver Chase, a pharmacist and inventor, created a machine that made lozenges that was later used to make candy — Necco Wafers — for production by the New England Confectionary Company. In 1866, his brother, David, had an idea to print messages on the candy that could be used at weddings and various celebrations. Thirty-five years later, the candies morphed into hearts and the rest is history —with a few modern changes in the messages, such as “Email me,” or “Fax me,” rather than “Call me.”

How could any valentine card be complete without X’s (kisses)? The symbol “X” was used as a “Christ cross” (crisscross), the Christian symbol, during the Middle Ages and became the way to sign off documents that would then be kissed — a gesture of oath, confirming the information.

Aside from hearts and flowers and candy and cards, love can be simplified in just a few words.

“Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other but in looking outward in the same direction.” —Antoine DeSaint

“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen or even touched. They must be felt with the heart.” —Helen Keller

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“Age does not protect you from love. But love, to some extent, protects you from age.” —Anaig Nin

And Dr. Seuss uses a few more words:

“We’re all a little weird, and life’s a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall in mutual weirdness and call it love.”

Dolly Merritt writes from Westminster. Her Prime column appears on the third Sunday of the month.

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