On the 14th of February, Valentine’s Day is a celebration of love for couples from many countries around the World. While many couples celebrate Valentine’s Day every year, its origins remain unknown to most. Whether true or not, many tales have told the origins of Valentine’s Day for years. Here is the one that sounds the most likely.
Who are you, St. Valentine?
The story began during the third century when the Roman Empire had been at war for years. The Empire’s power was declining, particularly its army. More and more young men were deserting. At the very least, young men were not as likely as previously to sign up for the military.
According to Emperor Claude II, potential soldiers were more interested in women and having families than in fighting for the Empire… To solve the problem, “Cruel Claude” decided purely to forbid weddings throughout the Empire.
However, a priest called Valentine decided to defy the law. In secret, he continued to perform weddings. Valentine even encouraged young lovers to meet him to be blessed with the marriage Sacrament. But Claude II eventually heard about these activities… and immediately decided to put Valentine in jail.
There, the priest befriended the blind daughter of his prison guard.
Valentine was eventually sentenced to death. According to the legend, right before his execution on the 14th of February 270 AD, he gave sight back to the blind girl. He also gave her a heart-shaped letter, which he signed: “From your Valentine”.
When the Roman Empire collapsed at the end of the 5th century, Valentine was declared a Saint by Pope Gelase I for his sacrifice in defence of love.
A sweethearts’ celebration
It was not until the Middle Ages that Valentine’s Day became a day to celebrate love. It was a political decision by the Church, which wanted to respond to the pagan celebration of Lupercalia, which had been emerging over the years in Christian Europe.
The ancient celebration of Fertility Day
Honouring ancient Roman deities Luperculus (God of herds and shepherds) and Juno (Goddess of marriage), “Fertility Day” was celebrated every year from the 13th of February to the 15th of February.
This former Greek and Roman celebration became fashionable again after the collapse of the Roman Empire.
People organised rituals to celebrate love and to bless future parents. The most unusual was Luperci’s race, where half-naked young men ran after young ladies holding pieces of pork skin.
The goal was to (gently!) hit the young ladies to have peaceful and happy pregnancies.
Valentine’s Day becomes a Christian tradition
The Church was fearful of losing its power in Europe, and Lupercalia was not the only pagan celebration to come back into fashion after the collapse of the Roman Empire. The Pope decided to turn Lupercalia into a Christian celebration. It would take place on the 14th of February and would be called Valentine’s Day to honour the priest who sacrificed his life to bless young couples.
Valentine’s Day in France: just a commercial celebration?
1,500 years later, Valentine’s Day is a trendy celebration in many countries, especially France. On that day, “lovebirds” swapped presents to show their mutual love.
According to a recent poll, 71% of French people celebrate Valentine’s Day. They spend about fifty euros each on presents such as flowers, jewellery or a romantic dinner.
Storekeepers and big businesses knew there was business to make out of it. “Surfing on love’s wave”, they adorn their shop fronts with hearts, roses and Cupid’s angels, just a few days before the 14th of February. Hence taking advantage of the opportunity to lure people who don’t know what to buy for their lover!
Valentine’s Day has become an occasion for retailers to make the most of an old tradition. However, let’s not accuse our favourite florists and jewellers! After all, they also allow many couples to celebrate such an important day for them!
The Romance of Paris
For the perfect Valentine’s Day destination, head to… PARIS!
There’s so much to see and do in the City of Love, from sightseeing to a cruise in the River Seine. I have listed my top 10 most romantic places to see in this article.
Get my ebook Romantic Paris here… an inspiring photographic journey along the Seine.
English-French Vocabulary: Valentine’s Day
(f) for féminin, (m) for masculin, (adj) for adjective and (v) for verbs
- celebration = célébration (f)
- church = église (f)
- couple = couple (m)
- Cupid = Cupidon (m)
- February = Février (m)
- flower = fleur (f)
- gift = cadeau (m)
- heart = cœur (m)
- love = amour (m)
- lover = amoureux (m) / amoureuse (f)
- Lupercalia = Lupercalia (f)
- marriage = mariage (m)
- party = fête (f)
- Pope = Pape (m)
- Roman = Romain (m) / Romaine (f)
- Roman Empire = Empire romain (m)
- Valentine = Valentin
- Valentine’s Day = Saint Valentin (f)
- wedding = mariage (m)
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