February 14, 2012 - Valentine's Day

This day started out all about romantic love, but to some extent has spread to include friendship and love of family—think of all the school children exchanging funny Valentine cards, parents giving kids boxes of candy hearts (or heart headbands), and kids giving them huge paper hearts with mushy sentiments scrawled on them.

Now lots of sorta-kinda holidays have sprung up on this day to go along with Valentine's Day. One is International Quirkyalone Day, which encourages self-love along with all the other sorts of love. There is also Race Relations Day (let's all love each other), and National Donor Day (show your love through organ and blood donation) and even World Marriage Day. There are some days that encourage us to live heart-healthy lives and to study heart diseases – National Women's Heart Day, National Have a Heart Day, and World Congenital Heart Defect Awareness Day are all today.

Where and when did the heart symbol come from?

Various ancient cultures thought that the heart, rather than the brain, was the source of thought and emotion. The ancient Egyptians, for example, thought this. That is why, when ancient Egyptians took great care to preserve all that is important in the human body during the process of mummification, they put the liver, intestines, lungs, and stomach inside canopic jars; they left the heart inside the body so that it could be weighed in judgement; and the brain was pulled out through the nose and thrown away!

We aren't certain why the European heart symbol looks so different from a human heart. Some people have speculated that it was copied from the leaves of a silphium plant, or from the shape that swan necks make during their courtship ritual.

Sometimes, these days, the word heart and the heart symbol are used to mean “to like or love.” An example is, “I heart NY,” which is the same thing as saying, “I love New York.” The Oxford Dictionary says that this usage may be the only example in the English language in which a usage came to be through T-shirts and bumper stickers!

For more on Valentine's Day, check out this earlier post.

Also on this date:

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