Even before Christmas markdowns, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, funny or sentimental cards, red and pink flowers, sexy lingerie and jewelry were harbingers of Valentine’s Day, a time of significant expectations and dashed hopes.

Americans will spend some $20 billion on this homage to St. Valentine — an average of $130 per person — according to History.com. Some $4 billion will be spent on jewelry, likely because an average 6 million couples in the United States will become engaged on this date. Another billion will be spent on greeting cards, and the rest is spent on the most popular gifts of chocolates and flowers.

Why so much brouhaha about the day devoted to luv? The holiday likely evolved from ancient Rome’s pagan fertility celebration of Lupercalia. This celebration included sacrificing a goat for fertility. The sacrificed goat’s skin was cut into strips that were then dipped in the animal’s blood.

Priests walked through the streets slapping women with these bloody strips of goat skin. This was apparently a turn-on for women of the day, who believed a slap on the derrière enhanced their fertility.

As Christianity overtook paganism, Lupercalia was outlawed and replaced by St. Valentine’s Day in the 5th century by Pope Gelasius. Feb. 14 was declared as a day of celebration to honor Valentine, a priest who went against an edict of Roman Emperor Claudius II that prohibited young men from marrying. (Claudius thought single men made better soldiers.)

Valentine was beheaded for performing forbidden marriages, and thus became a martyr for love.

Valentine’s Day falls on Saturday this year. If dining reservations have not been secured at a favorite restaurant, it may be too late, as Valentine’s Day is the busiest night of the year for dining out.

If fancy dinners are not your thing, consider one of the following gifts of wine:



Champagne is arguably the world’s most romantic wine, but it is expensive. An entry-level bottle of true Champagne goes for about $50. Consider sharing a bottle of the world’s most romantic wine with sushi or buttered popcorn or a bag of kettle chips, all of which pair excellently with this expensive wine.



For a less expensive sparkling wine, consider Prosecco from Italy or Cava from Spain in the $15 to $20 range. These also work with kettle chips, popcorn and sushi. They also work nicely with Chinese takeout egg rolls or fried wantons, as well as soft, creamy cheeses.



Consider having pizza delivered and pick up a bottle of Italian wine in homage to the Italian who got all this Valentine stuff started. A nice Italian Barolo, starting in the $30 range, or a sangiovese from Chianti, starting in the $15 range, would pair well with pizza or pasta with tomato sauce.



Dessert wines like Port or late harvest zinfandel also make nice gifts when paired with a small box of chocolates or even a chocolate heart-shaped doughnut. Dessert wines like ice wines or late harvest wines also make nice gifts and pair nicely with cheese or nuts. This category of wine can be expensive, but fortuitously many of these wines come in small bottle format and can be had in the $15 to $25 range.



For those clueless regarding the importance of Valentine’s Day, the important thing to remember here is that some token is expected, whether it is a card, a single rose, a dinner, a bottle of wine or an engagement ring all done up in pink and red Valentine trappings.

Contact Pat Kettles at pkettles@annistonstar.com.