Did you know that 1 billion Valentine’s cards are exchanged throughout the world each year, making Valentine’s Day the second most popular card sending holiday after Christmas?
But why do we celebrate this day in February each year?
The ancient Roman festival Lupercalia which celebrated fertility and the renewal of life was originally held between February 13th-15th. The name ‘Lupercalia’ came from the name of the cave, ‘Lupercal’, where Rome’s founders, Romulus and Remus, were said to have been suckled by the she-wolf, Lupa. Until the 6th century AD, it was one of the high points of the Pagan calendar: whereby boys and girls who had led separate lives previously were paired with each other for the duration of the festival.
There are several stories about St Valentine including one from the Catholic church. Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage after deciding that single men made better soldiers than their married counterparts. Valentine defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. When discovered, he was put to death on Claudius’s orders. Another story is that Valentine tried to help Christians escape from harsh Roman prisons but was killed for his actions.
A different view is that Valentine of Rome who allegedly performed miracles was put to death after refusing to convert to Paganism, trying to convert Emperor Claudius II to Christianity instead.
In AD 496, Pope Gelasius banned Lupercalia and replaced it with Valentine’s Day on February 14th, where it remained within the Catholic calendar until 1969. Valentine’s Day was not associated with love until the Middle Ages when it was believed that February 14th was the first day of the mating season for birds in France and England, which added to the idea it should be known as a day of romance.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middles Ages, but written Valentine greetings did not begin to appear until after 1400. The earliest surviving Valentine’s note is a rondeau, a form of French poem, written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his beloved from the Tower of London after being captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415.
By the start of the 17th century, the day was mentioned in poems and plays by William Shakespeare and John Donne.
By the end of the 18th century, with the Royal Mail now widespread within the UK, the practice of sending letters on Valentine’s Day became even more popular. In Norfolk, the custom of Jack Valentine, when a gift was left on the door step of the one you loved, was given just as much importance as Christmas Eve until the 1960’s.
In 1797, the Young Man’s Valentine’s Writer was published, suggesting appropriate rhymes and sayings should you be at a loss as what to write to your secret love.
Due to their increasing popularity, factories began to mass produce Valentine cards by the early 19th century.
The production of Valentine cards gained pace in 1913 when Hallmark Cards produced their first Valentine cards, leading to the unending stream of celebratory days they promote in order to get their hands on our hard earned money.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world and many countries have their own special traditions. Many of their traditions have changed throughout history but some are still practised today.
The style of Valentine’s card sent in America has changed throughout history. During the time of Civil war, the cards were decorated with rich colours and contained patriotic and or political motifs.
Early cards were intricately designed with lace paper work and decorated with beads, seashells, seeds berries and petals. Many cards were imported from overseas because the poor quality of American paper was not suitable for embossing. Today Valentine’s Day is worth billions of pounds to the American economy. American children usually exchange Valentine’s cards with their friends and family.
During the Australian gold rush men found themselves with lots of money from the new found wealth of the Ballarat Mines and were willing to pay enormous amounts of money for elaborate Valentine’s gifts to be shipped into the country. The gifts included satin cushions, ornately embroidered with expensive threads of gold or a stuffed bird of paradise contained in a wooden glass fronted box. This was considered highly prized, being both fashionable and expensive at the time. Nowadays Australians celebrate by exchanging flowers and chocolates.
In Brazil, Valentine’s Day does not exist. However, “Dia dos Namorados” is celebrated on June 12 when lovers give each other candies, flowers, cards and other love presents.
Romance and love is an integral part of Chilean life and they widely celebrate Valentine’s Day, decorating their homes, shops and workplaces as well as having parties which involve eating traditional dishes such as Pastel de Choclo (a chicken and corn dish) and Mote Con Huesillo (a non-alcoholic peach drink).
In Denmark, Valentine’s Day is taken very seriously with some people even taking the day off work to celebrate it. Danish men send funny Valentine’s cards called Gaekkbrev and sign them anonymously. If the recipient recognises the sender, she will be given an Easter egg in the spring. Traditionally, Danish people used to exchange snowdrops rather than roses, which is the custom now. Some people hold lavish parties to celebrate the day too.
There have been many sayings recorded from history about Valentine’s Day to indicate whether a woman would find her true love including:
“If a woman saw a robin flying overhead on Valentine’s Day, it meant she would marry a sailor. If she saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy. If she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a rich person.”
Italians are known for their appreciation of fine chocolate but they also give their loved ones boxes of hazelnut chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Italy has a long history of celebrating Valentine’s Day and traditionally it was said that the first man a woman laid her eyes upon on Valentine’s Day would be the man she married or would look like the man she would marry and she would expect to marry in the same year. Many young single women would wake early and spend the morning staring out of the window hoping the love of their life would appear!
Just a box of chocolates will not do in Portugal. Portuguese men give the women in their lives wonderful gift baskets containing cheese, wine, chocolates and other gourmet treats as well as gift certificates. The women give their men baskets containing fancy liquors and fine wine.
Valentine’s Day has only been celebrated in Russia since the collapse of USSR, therefore they do not have any historical traditions. Instead, they send any flowers to their loved ones since flowers are treasured among Russian women and do not limit themselves to roses. The day of love is enjoyed all over Russia except in one city in the west, Belgorod, where it has been banned, citing it is not a Russian holiday and does not teach proper morals and values to the youth of the city!
On Valentine’s Day the Scottish celebrate by holding huge festivals. Single people place their name in a jar at local parties which is then pulled out by the opposite sex and they become one another’s Valentine. The men present the women with gifts and the women wear the name tag of their new Valentine on their sleeve or just above their heart.
In Scottish history some of these couples have been known to marry that same night.
In Spain, the tradition is reversed, whereby the wives give the presents to their husbands and the husbands give flowers to their wives.
February 14th is celebrated in South Korea but the celebrations continue for several months. On Valentine’s Day, women present the men in their lives with chocolate. On March 14th, known as White Day, the man must repay the woman in his life with candy. Black Day is celebrated on 14th April when single people take this day to mourn their single status.
In addition to having special holidays throughout the year, the South Korean people give their loved ones several boxes of chocolate at any one time. Lovers always keep a good supply of chocolates, either shop bought or home made to give to their beloved for several weeks. This sounds like a great idea!
The Taiwanese people celebrate Valentine’s Day twice during the year, on February 14th and on July 7th in accordance with the Chinese Lunar calendar. On these days, men send their loved ones red roses but not the usual dozen. The number of roses sent is very significant within Taiwanese tradition. One red rose means your partner sees you as his one and only true love, 11 means you are his favourite, 99 means his love is forever and 100 means a marriage proposal.
The tradition of giving a Welsh love spoon to the one you love dates back to the 1600s when a man would hand carve a wooden spoon and present it to the one they love. If she was interested she would accept the gift. Nowadays, gifts of chocolates and flowers are normally exchanged, although Welsh love spoons can be found in souvenir shops.
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