Valentine’s Day history and traditions around the world
14th February 2020
What is Valentine’s Day and how did it start?
Valentine’s Day, also called Saint Valentine’s Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine is celebrated every year on the 14th of February.
Valentine’s Day originates from the Western Christian feast day honouring Saints named Valentinus. There are numerous stories, with various Valentines, linked to February 14th, but perhaps the one commonly known is of Saint Valentine himself.
The Roman priest was imprisoned and sentenced to death for performing weddings for soldiers who weren’t allowed to get married. Emperor Claudius II believed single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families and forbid them to marry. Valentine, realizing the injustice of the order, defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. Other stories suggest that Saint Valentine was imprisoned for helping Christians escape the Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured.
Whilst in prison, Saint Valentine fell in love with his guard’s blind daughter, who often visited him during his confinement. Valentine wrote her a letter signed “From your Valentine” as a farewell before his execution. The term which is still commonly used now.
It’s said that Valentine celebrations come from Lupercalia, a Roman-pagan holiday for fertility. However, there is no evidence that’s actually true.
Valentine’s Day first became associated with romantic love in the 14th century, but it wasn’t until the 18th-century England that it grew into an occasion in which couples expressed their love for each other by presenting flowers, chocolates, and sending greeting cards.
Roses are by far the most popular flowers on Valentine’s Day. In Roman mythology, roses are the favourite flower of Venus, the goddess of love.
1.45 Billion will be spent on Valentine’s Day in the UK
According to research, over 32 million (61%) Brits will be spending money on their loved ones this Valentine’s Day and a further 9.4 million will celebrate the 14th of February without spending anything. The popularity of Valentine’s has increased in the past two years with 4 in 5 Brits (79%) planning to celebrate Valentine’s Day in 2020, up from 69% in 2018.
Valentine’s Day traditions around the world
- In Denmark, rather than roses, friends and darlings exchange pressed white flowers, called snowdrops. Another well-known Danish tradition is ‘joking letters’ called gaekkebrev. These letters are given to women and consist of a funny poem or rhyme and are signed with anonymous dots. If a woman guesses the sender, she earns herself an Easter egg later that year.
- Instead of Valentine’s Day, the Welsh celebrate Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, on January 25th. A romantic Welsh gift is a love spoon. This comes from the 17th century, when Welsh men carved a wooden spoon as a token of affection for the women they loved. Love spoons were carved with patterns and symbols, each signifying a different meaning.
- In England, on the night of Valentine’s Day, women used to place five bay leaves on their pillows, one at each corner and one in the centre, to bring dreams of their future husbands.
- Italians celebrate Valentine’s Day with a romantic dinner. But this romantic day was originally celebrated as the Spring Festival where people gathered outside in gardens to enjoy poetry readings and music before taking a stroll with their beloved. Another Italian Valentine’s Day tradition was for young, unmarried girls to wake up before dawn to spot their future husbands. The belief was that the first man a woman saw on Valentine’s Day was the man she would marry within the year.
- Paris, as we know it, is one of the most romantic destinations in the world. With that in mind, it’s not hard to understand that the French have long celebrated this day as a day for lovers. It is believed that the Saint Valentine’s Day card originated from France, when Charles, the Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his wife from his prison in 1415. An old Valentine event in France and now officially banned was called the “une loterie d’amour” or “drawing for love”. This entailed single people of all ages entering houses that faced opposite each other and calling out through the windows till eventually they paired off with each other. Men who weren’t satisfied with their match could leave one woman for another, and the women left unmatched gathered afterward for a bonfire, burning pictures of the men who deserted them.
- In South Africa, it’s normal for women to wear their hearts on their sleeves on February 14th. Women pin the names of the one they love on their shirtsleeves, an ancient Roman tradition known as Lupercalia.
- Brazilians celebrate Dia dos Namorados, or “Lovers’ Day,” on June 12th by exchanging gifts and sharing dinner with friends and relatives. The following day is Saint Anthony’s Day, which honours the patron saint of marriage. On this day, single women perform rituals called simpatias in the hope that St. Anthony will bring them a husband.
What is love depends on the language you speak
Did you know that emotional concepts; such as love, shame, and anger, differ in meaning from culture to culture, even when we translate them into the same words? According to a study of two dozen terms related to emotion, in nearly 2,500 languages, misunderstandings are more common in couples speaking different languages. This is because emotional terms vary largely in their meanings from language to language. For example, Persian uses one term, ænduh, to express both grief and regret, but the Dargwa word for grief, dard, also expresses not regret but anxiety.
As interesting (and frustrating) as it is, this stresses the importance of not just memorising the words when learning a foreign language but understanding the context.