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The many meanings of Valentine's Day

Briana Sanchez / Tribune Shoppers look for Valentine's Day cards Monday at a retail store in Willmar.1 / 2
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The ancient Greeks recognized six different kinds of love, yet every Valentine's Day, we seem to focus only on romantic love (those groovy Greeks referred to sexual passion as "eros"). Yet our relationships extend far beyond just significant others.

So this Valentine's Day, we wanted to celebrate lots of different types of love and all the people we celebrate with — whether you're with your family, a group of beloved friends or by yourself.

Fast facts

Valentine's Day is second only to Christmas as the most popular holiday for exchanging cards, according the Greeting Card Association. An estimated one billion cards will be sent this year. But do you really know how this holiday full of hearts, flowers, chocolate and romance became what it is today?

Who is it named after?

Valentine's Day is named after Saint Valentine, but like some romances, the holiday itself gets a little more mysterious because experts aren't exactly sure who Valentine was.

The Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus.

The first is a priest who served in third-century Rome where the emperor had just outlawed marriage because he believed single men made better soldiers. Valentine defied his orders and continued to perform marriages in secret.

Other stories suggest Valentine was imprisoned for helping Christians escape Roman prisons and he wrote letters to his love signed "From Your Valentine."

According to the the History Channel, no one can be certain which story is true, but most often Saint Valentine is considered a romantic hero of the Middle Ages.

Why February?

Most historians suggest February was chosen for Valentine's Day not because it commemorated the death or birth of Saint Valentine, but because it was a way for the Catholic Church to make the pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia — which fell in mid-February — more Christian.

Why cards, flowers, hearts and chocolate?

Records show as early as the 1600s in Great Britain, lovers were exchanging handwritten notes and gifts on Valentine's Day. According to the History Channel, in 1840s America, the "Mother of Valentine" Esther Howland began selling the first mass-produced valentines made from lace, ribbon and colored paper.

Flowers have long symbolized love, marriage, romance and fertility.

Hearts take center stage thanks to the Greek, who believed the heart was the center of the soul — the place where emotion, including romantic love, lived.

As far back as the Aztec society, chocolate was called "the food of the gods." Then in 1861, British chocolate maker Richard Cadbury (of Cadbury creme egg fame) decided to make the first heart-shaped box to display his product, forever cementing the relationship between chocolate and Valentine's Day.

• Tracy Briggs

Incorporate the entire family

For those with young children, Valentine's Day is a great opportunity to help them understand all the different ways to appreciate love in their lives. Here are a few ways to incorporate your entire family into the day dedicated to love.

Send love notes. Help kids write notes to grandparents, extended family members or friends and either hand-deliver or mail them. Have them include photos or artwork with the special note.

Incorporate special meal-time items. Make heart-shaped pancakes with red food coloring mixed into the batter. Use a cookie cutter to send a heart-shaped peanut butter and jelly sandwich for lunch. Serve strawberries, red peppers, tomatoes, apples and any other red food for dinner.

Express appreciation for each family member. Similar to how you might share what you're grateful for at Thanksgiving, use Valentine's Day as an opportunity to tell each other how much they mean to you.

Share Valentine's Day traditions. Tell your kids how you celebrated the day when you were their age, then call Grandma and Grandpa to find out what they did. Talk about similarities and differences in the traditions.

Start a Valentine's Day telephone chain. Call a family member or close friend and have everyone take turns saying how much you love them. Then request that the person keep the telephone chain going by calling someone they love and requesting the chain continues.

Danielle Teigen

Danielle Teigen has worked for Forum Communications since May 2015. She is the features editor who also manages digital and sponsored content. She first worked for the company in 2007 as an intern and part-time reporter. She later served as editor for two local magazines and in marketing and public relations roles for an engineering firm and the chamber of commerce. She is originally from Turton, S.D.

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