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St. Valentine’s Day

St. Valentine’s Day (always February 14 and not a legal public holiday) is perhaps the most commercialized American holiday after Christmas. Although the original St. Valentine was one of the early Christian martyrs, Valentine’s Day today (the “Saint” is not used in popular parlance) has strictly sentimental rather than religious significance. Adult Americans use the day to declare their love and affection to their spouses and lovers. American children often create or purchase Valentine cards to give to each other, or to their parents or grandparents. The plump red heart shape, the figure of cupid, and fluttering winged doves are familiar Valentine’s symbols.

Americans exchange Valentine’s Day cards with the ones they love. The card may use the phraseology “please be my Valentine.” Valentine cards also serve to express affection to a person who does not yet know about it. (Hope is an important feature of the American psyche.) Americans also give each other Valentine gifts. Elaborate candy or chocolate assortments are typical, and jewelry is a perennial. A couple in love may cap it all off with an elaborate Valentine dinner, preferably with Champagne.

The United States is a sentimental country. Of course, Americans can love each other with the same depth and emotion as can people in other countries. It is, nevertheless, important to understand how outwardly sentimental Americans can be. The greeting card industry depends on this fact to sell its products, for many occasions, or even no occasions, with no greater example than Valentine’s Day. Cards are available that express a full range of affection and commitment: “you are a great friend;” “I’m getting to really like you;” “you are the love of my life;” up to and including sexually oriented materials. You can buy a Valentine for your boss, your doctor, or even your dog. You can even purchase and deliver one online.

Newcomers to the United States need to understand and respect Valentine’s Day customs. If you are in a romantic relationship with an American, do not forget to give them a card or gift on this special day. It is not sufficient that they “know how you feel” anyway. If you are not in such a relationship, be careful about sending Valentine’s greetings or giving gifts unless you are prepared for them to be taken seriously.

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