The “Peanuts” creator may have been on to something. Love is the first thing that comes to mind, when you think of Valentine’s Day. The symbolism can’t be missed: Heart-shaped boxes of candy, heart-shaped greeting cards, floral arrangements with heart-shaped love notes, and even a little cherub sporting a bow and arrow. With Valentine’s Day arriving next Tuesday, it’s time for love and affection toward those we desire and cherish most.

How did all of this mushy fuss come about? St. Valentine was a real person and is officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. The most familiar account of his life was from the 1400s and describes him as a temple priest who was beheaded near Rome by the emperor Claudius II for helping Christian couples wed. Another account of his life, however, describes him as the Bishop of Terni who was also martyred by Claudius II. In any event, we celebrate him on Feb. 14, because it was historically the day of his execution in 269 AD. Legend has it that he left a note for the jailer’s daughter who had befriended him and signed it “From Your Valentine” hence the tradition of the day we most identify with affection and adoration.

Legend of St. Valentine

About a dozen Roman Catholic saints over the centuries have carried the name “Valentinus” from the Latin word for either worthy, strong or powerful. The most recently beatified Valentine is St. Valentine Berrio-Ochoa, a Spaniard of the Dominican order who traveled to Vietnam where he served as bishop until his beheading in 1861. Pope John Paul II canonized Berrio-Ochoa in 1988. There was even a Pope Valentine, but he only served for a month or so around 269 A.D.

St. Valentine has a wide range of spiritual responsibilities outside of watching over the lives of lovers. He has been called on to intervene in everything from beekeeping to traveling, and from epilepsy to plague. Mostly though, St. Valentine is the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages. He is so adored around the Western world, that when an excavation in Rome in the early 1800s reportedly revealed his skeletal remains, bits and pieces of the late saint’s body were distributed to reliquaries around the world. If you visit the right museum or cathedral in parts of the Czech Republic, Ireland, Scotland, England or France, you might spot a bit of the remains of St. Valentine.

Cupid and his arrow

Fans of “The Canturbery Tales” might find it interesting that Geoffrey Chaucer had a unique connection to Valentine’s Day. There are no literary records of romantic celebrations taking place prior to his 1375 poem “Parliament of Foules” in which he links a tradition of courtly love with the celebration of St. Valentine’s feast day. The poem does refer to Feb. 14 as the day birds (and us) come together to find a mate: “For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day/Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” Who knows? Chaucer may have invented the holiday we know of today. It isn’t known, if he was a fan of chocolate.

There’s another figure—albiet a small one—historically associated with Valentine’s Day. Cupid has long played a role in the celebrations of love and lovers. He is known as a mischievous, winged child whose arrows would pierce the hearts of his victims causing them to fall deeply in love. In ancient Greece, he was known as Eros, the young son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty. The Romans called him Cupid and his mother was Venus. One legend tells the story of Cupid and the mortal maiden, Psyche. Venus was jealous of the beauty of Psyche, and ordered Cupid to punish the mortal. But instead, Cupid fell deeply in love with her and the two were married. Because Psyche was a mortal, she was forbidden to look at Cupid.

Psyche was happy with the arrangement, until her sisters one day convinced her to gaze upon him, and Cupid punished her by departing. She set out to find her lost love and came upon the temple of Venus.

Wishing to destroy her, Venus gave Psyche a series of tasks each more difficult than the previous. The last task was to take a little box to the underworld and retrieve some of the beauty of Proserpine, the wife of Pluto, and place it in the box and to never open it. She opened the box and died. Cupid found her lifeless body and gathered her essence of love onto his arrow and aimed it back into the box and forgave her transgressions. The gods saw Psyche’s love for Cupid and made her a goddess.

The ‘heart’ of love

The heart is the most familiar image of Valentine’s Day. Apparently, in ancient times people believed the heart was the center of all human emotions, and since love is the strongest emotion we hold dear, the heart became the symbol of love. While the symbol traces back to European playing cards of the 1400s, the shape is pretty much a mystery. One suggested origin comes from the ancient African city-state of Cyrene where merchants once traded in a now extinct plant called silphiam of which the seedpod resembled a Valentine heart. This image became associated first with sex, and then with love. The Catholic Church, however, explains the symbol as coming from a vision that the French nun and mystic, Saint Margaret Mary Alocoque, had where the “sacred heart of Jesus”—associated with love and devotion by Catholics—appeared in this shape surrounded by thornes.

Elizabethan literature took advantage of the “heart-equals-love” combination, particularly in the sonnets of William Shakespeare: “Hear my soul speak. Of the vary instant that I saw you, did my heart fly at your service” or “A heart to love, and in that heart, courage, to make love known.” Why is the Valentine heart red? The Catholic Church may have played a role in associating it with a cardinal’s coat.

There are many traditions associated with Valentine’s Day. For instance, it’s the largest seasonal card-sending occasion of the year, next to Christmas. These cards are frequently given to teachers, children, mothers, wives, sweethearts … and pets. Parents receive about one out of every five valentines and a reported 110 million roses (red in particular, mostly from California and South America) are gifted on Valentine’s Day.

Big day for gift giving

Superstitions abound on Valentine’s Day. To be awoken by a kiss is considered lucky. If you see a flock of doves, you’ll have a happy marriage. If an apple is cut in half, the amount of seeds will indicate the number of children you’ll have. If you see a squirrel on Valentine’s Day, you’ll supposedly marry a cheapskate who will hoard all of your money. Conversely, if you see a goldfinch, you’ll marry a millionaire.

As with most holidays, retail spending is an integral aspect of Valentine’s Day. By the end of Tuesday, Americans are expected to shell out $18.6 billion with jewelry being the most profitable items for retailers at $4.4 billion, followed by flowers at $1.9 billion, candy at $1.6 billion (94 percent of people prefer this gift), and greeting cards at $1.4 billion. That’s not to mention clothing items, restaurant reservations, day trips, etc. that make the day among the most commercially lucrative. WalletHub.com, a website that analyzes Valentine’s Day spending/trends, broke these figures down even further and suggested that the average reveler will spend about $137 on any assortment of gifts. The average cost of dinner for two comes at about $74, and men will spend almost double the amount for a gift than women will spend. Forty-one percent of adults won’t celebrate Valentine’s Day at all, while a surprising 53 percent of women say they would break up with their lover, if they received nothing.

Gift ideas for men

One million marriage proposals are expected to take place on Valentine’s Day; as well, one million Facebook users are expected to change their relationship status within a week of the day. Twenty-four percent of singles will buy themselves a gift (50 percent of these persons report they are proud of their status), and another 20 percent of Americans will buy their pet a Valentine’s Day gift.

If you’re not quite sure what to buy your loved one for Valentine’s Day, here are a few suggestions easily found online or at most fine retailers:

—Harrington Collection engraved silver pocket watch ($39.95);

—Timeless Message leather 5 slot watch box ($59.95);

—Just For Him embroidered luxury fleece robe ($55.95);

—Men’s embroidered navy velour towel wrap ($31.95);

—Regent personalized leather bi-fold wallet ($35.95);

—Men’s RFID blocking personalized leather cash clip ($39.95);

—Harrinigton Collection engraved cuff links ($26.35);

—“Sealed With a Kiss” or “To Do List” personalized boxers ($18.35);

—St. Christopher men’s engraved pendant ($26.35);

—The Traveler five-piece engraved grooming set ($29.95);

—Deluxe Weekender embroidered duffel bag ($43.95);

—Elite Travel personalized garment bag ($55.95);

—Personalized cherrywood cigar humidor ($47.95);

There are also a number of fun and playful Valentine’s Day gifts for men. You can customize a set of boxers or a deck of playing cards, or perhaps customize a photo puzzle and beer bottle labels to affix to a six-pack of his favorite brew. For hobbyists or outdoorsmen, there are customized fishing lures, lighters and pocket knives all designed to keep his lover in mind.

Gift ideas for women

—“Why I Love You” personalized jewelry box ($26.35);

—“Your Love Letter” personalized keepsake ($29.95);

—Just For Her embroidered luxury fleece robe (55.95);

—“Forever In Love” personalized preserved rose ($89.95);

—Heart Felt monogram personalized sweatshirt blanket ($31.95);

—Infinity bracelet with Swarovski crystal ($22.95);

—Custom message engraved bracelet ($23.95);

—“Interlocking Hearts” personalized sterling silver necklace ($64.95);

—“I Love You” personalized wedding and anniversary clock ($39.95);

—Black leather wrap personalized charm bracelet ($38.95) or “Loving Message” personalized link bracelet (39.95);

—Embroidered quilted shoulder bag ($26.35);

—“The One I Love” personalized bud vase ($23.15);

—“Love Is Kind” engraved mirrored storage box ($31.95 and up).

The special woman in your life may enjoy a personalized bottle of her favorite wine complete with a pair of monogrammed wine glasses. Often, a personalized photo box with a special pocket token can make a perfect, romantic Valentine’s Day gift. And since it is a day for romance, an intimate gift package for her with scented candles, flowers, chocolates and personalized lingerie can help to keep you close as a couple. What makes a romantic gift more special is the thought and meaning behind it.