Aww… February 14. The day when love is in the air and life is good.
You’ve obviously heard of it before – and probably celebrated it at least once or twice – but do you actually know what it’s all about?
Luckily for you, we have all the answers.
Saint Valentine who?
The day of hearts and flowers is recognized throughout the world but did you know that it was one man that started the whole event? Proof that the male species are not as incapable of romance as they’d like us to believe, the story of Saint Valentine (or Saint Valentinus as he was known back then) is filled with passion and desire.
According to legend, Saint Valentine was a priest in Ancient Rome (circa 3rd Century) who married loved-up couples in secret when Emperor Claudius II imposed a ban on matrimony – according to him, unmarried men made better soldiers (boo!). A true romantic, Saint Valentine chose love not war and carried out secret marriages. Unfortunately, he was discovered and punished for his treachery.
Saint Valentine’s legacy
Imprisoned and sentenced to death, Saint Valentine is claimed to have fallen victim of Cupid’s arrow himself by becoming besotted with his jailor’s daughter. It’s not known if she returned his affections (we like to think she did) but legend states he sent her a letter declaring his love shortly before his death – signing it with a familiar marker we still use today: from your valentine.
The saint’s death is claimed to have occurred in February to give birth to the tradition of Valentine’s Day but there is some argument over this (we’ll come to that in a minute). It is also worth remembering that while this is the story of the most common figure identified as Saint Valentine, the Catholic Church actually recognizes three different saints by the same name. Each was martyred during their life, which could explain how the name became so well known, and other legends associated with the figures include the fact that Saint Valentine wore a purple amethyst ring with an image of Cupid – the Roman God of Love – engraved upon it. The symbols are now associated with love but amethyst is also February’s birthstone (cool right?)
Before Saint Valentine
Saint Valentine may have given us the story we needed to transform this special day into a global holiday, but what happened before his legacy was created. As well as the celebration of Lupercalia, many other rituals were dedicated to romantic love. These were all associated with the Roman God of Love: Cupid (Eros in Greek) whose name literally translates to “desire”. Portrayed as a small child carrying a bow and arrow that were capable of making people fall in love with one another, Cupid has been an important part of Valentine’s Day celebrations for centuries and is still depicted in poetry and gifts today.
Why February 14?
As mentioned above, there are many who believe Saint Valentine met his maker in February to explain the timing of this celebration – but there are some other theories. One particularly strong argument claims that rather than commemorating the romantic Saint Valentine, February 14 was actually chosen as Valentine’s Day because it coincided with a pagan celebration – Lupercalia.
This was the festival of fertility celebrated on 15 February and dedicated to the Roman God of Agriculture: Faunus. Just as people claim Christmas is celebrated in December to Christianise the pagan Winter Solstice celebration, there are those who think Valentine’s Day does the same to Lupercalia.
Interestingly, the celebration of Lupercalia ended with the names of single Roman women being placed in an urn for bachelors to pick out. This led to a number of marriages but while the similarities between this ritual and today’s Valentine’s Day traditions are clear, there are differences.
A big one is the fact Lupercalia celebrations saw local women scramble to be touched by sacrificial offerings. These were strips of skin dipped in blood from a goat (for fertility) and dog (for purification) and were believed to increase fertility.
We’d much rather receive chocolates and flowers on Valentine’s Day , to be honest.
The origin of Valentine’s Day Gifts
Speaking of gifts, you may be wondering how one man’s dying legacy could turn into a day ruled by cards, flowers, and you The tradition stretches back a lot longer than your probably think – right back until the Middle Ages. At this time, small tokens or gifts would have been exchanged and it wasn’t until the 1400s that the first written Valentine greeting is claimed to have been sent (unless you count Saint Valentine ’s death row letter of course). The oldest known Valentine’s Day poem was written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans. Writing to his wife whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London, he started a trend just because his missed his wife wanted to tell her he loved her. Very cute Charles, very cute.
Over time, more writers and poets got in on the act of love. Chaucer and Shakespeare are two of the biggest names who romanticised the idea of Valentine’s Day in their work and Shakespeare’s sonnets , in particular, gave plenty of hope to young lovers looking to express themselves. This ultimately led to the day of romance becoming more popular in Britain and France which created the demand for readymade cards which lovers could send one another.
Valentine`s Day became more and more popular throughout the 17th and 18th centuries in England and then in America. Cards and letters were exchanged among friends and relatives on that day. At this point in time, Valentines were hand-made. Common styles included the acrostic poem, in which the first letter of each line was a letter in the recipient`s name, as well as pin-prick and cut-out styles, which made the card look like lace.
By the middle of the 19th century, Valentine`s cards were produced in factories instead of by hand. In the UK, Kate Greenaway produced cards that were popular. The cards featured beautiful garden scenes and happy children. In the US, Esther Howland sold the first commercially manufactured Valentines in 1847. During the first year of sales, Howland sold $5,000 worth of cards.
Valentine`s Day candy dates to the 19th century, when doctors would prescribe chocolate to soothe people`s nerves and calm emotions. It is thought that Cadbury created the first Valentine`s Day box of chocolates. While the company does admit to making heart-shaped boxes, it does not claim that it invented the tradition. The popular conversation hearts originally were available in a range of shapes including horseshoes and postcards. Although the conversations printed on the hearts today are very short, they were originally considerably longer.
Valentines Day Today
Today, Valentine`s Day is the second-largest card-sending holiday each year. Approximately one billion Valentine cards are sent every year, of which women send the majority. Valentine`s Day candy is also very popular. Each year, eight billion candy hearts are made. Every year, 10 new sayings are created for the hearts as well.
Evolution of Valentines Day Cards
Valentines Day greetings have been popular since the Middle Ages where prospective lovers sang their romantic verses or poems to their loved ones. It wasn’t until 1400 when Valentines began to appear on paper – the first one is currently in the British Museum. Let’s look at how they evolved.
The very first Valentine
The first Valentines Day card is thought to have been sent from Charles the Duke of Orleans in 1415 and was addressed to his wife. He sent the love note whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London after the Battle of Agincourt, just wanting to tell his good lady how much he missed her. It is reported that he would spend hours of his day writing long love verses to his wife who was located in France and these are currently in the British Museum for you to swoon over (awww).
By the Sixteenth Century, written Valentines were extremely common and a century later it was extremely popular to send them in Britain and around the world. Friends and loved ones began to embrace the idea of exchanging words and gifts on 14 February – creating the holiday we all know and love today. One of the most common gifts during this time was books on the language of flowers. Flowers were thought to hold secret meanings and by purchasing this book for their admirers, secret messages and hidden meanings could be easily conveyed – perfect for secret lovers trying to keep their trysts under the radar!
The birth of the Valentine’s Day card
By 1723, the Valentine’s Day card was extremely popular in America which began to grow further with the import of British writers’ verses and sonnets. These pieces of writing would be copied onto gilt edged paper or an alternative decorative sheet of paper. There were even specific verses which men could send to women and women could reply back with. These were used to admit feelings or reject advances, which is pretty practical when you think about it. Later in the Eighteenth Century and Nineteenth Century, the rise in Valentine’s Day became more of a religious holiday. The hearts on cards were named “the sacred heart”’ and angels decorated the paper too. These angels soon became aptly known as “cupids” – drawing on inspiration from the Greek God of Love: Eros.
Interesting Fact: It is believed that the religious versions of Valentine’s Day cards were made by nuns. This process would have taken them an extremely long time as it is said the cards looked as if they had been machine made. That’s a lot of detail to depict just with your hands and would have required plenty of skill. Well done nuns!
The evolving card
By 1840, the Americans had designed the “Daguerreotype” card whereby a photographic process was placed at the centre of the card and surrounded by an ornamental wreath. This was soon replaced with the popular “Mirror Valentine” which incorporated the use of a small mirror being placed on the front of the card in order to reflect the recipient’s appearance – just in case you weren’t entirely sure who your valentine was in love with. However, the tradition of actually sending a Valentine’s Day card on 14 February didn’t take place until after the Civil War (1865) – the cards often showed hearts being left behind as soldiers were separated from their lovers.
Manufacturing cards on mass
After this, Valentine’s Day cards soon began being made in factories. To begin with, they were simply black and white images put onto card but soon paper lace was introduced to the designs as were images of cupid and artistic messages which helped the tongue-tied find the right words in which to declare their lover. Moving into the Victorian era, the creation of the modern postal service really helped Valentines Cards take off. In the early 1900s, it was even considered “proper” to display your cards in the parlour on the special day – providing you were lucky enough to receive some of course! This tradition became so popular that photographers and designers searched for more interesting subjects and ideas to place on the cards in order to satisfy consumer demand.
Some of the original cards – especially those from the Victorian period – have been maintained and are currently kept in British Museums across the UK (a great trip idea for anyone interested in doing something different this February 14). So, next time you give or receive a Valentines Day card just spare a thought for the history behind the tradition. Without people like Charles the Duke of Orleans you might never have known the thrill of receiving a special card, greeting or poem from a secret admirer or partner.
Valentine’s Day traditions around the world
More than just a national celebration, Valentine’s Day is celebrated throughout the world by people from all walks of life. While we love nothing more than receiving a big bouquet of roses with our name on it, there are some interesting traditions in other countries that we wouldn’t mind either! Here are some of the ways in which Valentine’s Day is celebrated elsewhere in the world:
Japan: Valentine’s Day is a real occasion for Japanese men who are spoilt rotten by their women in a very modern role reversal. Showered with affection, the main gift is chocolate (yum!) and there are even different types of chocolate given for different types of relationship (family, partner, boss, friend). This was introduced in 1936 and is a tradition also found in South Korea.
Taiwan: if you’d rather receive all that chocolate than gift it to your loved ones, then head over to Taiwan where the Japanese tradition is reversed. Women are showered with chocolates and presents, just like in many other countries, and are the main focus of the day.
Denmark and Norway: Valentine’s Day was not widely celebrated in either Denmark or Norway until very recently – but they’re certainly making up for lost time! In a quirky tradition, loved-up Norwegian and Danish men send rhyming poetry to the women they admire. The poem must be anonymous and the penmaster can only provide one clue to their identify. If their recipient guesses correctly then they’ll send her an Easter Egg later in the year –win-win!
Slovenia: for a Valentine’s Day with a twist, Slovenians actually delay their celebration of love for each other until March 12 (St Gregory’s Day) and use February 14 to mark Zdravko – the celebration of the mating seasons of birds. Traditionally, Slovenians would begin working in fields and vineyards on 14 February; believing it to symbolise the first day of spring.
Finland and Estonia: rather than alienate those without a partner on the day of love, Finnish and Estonian people have transformed Valentine’s Day into ‘Friends Day’ when gifts and cards are exchanged between close companions rather than just couples. Of course, there’s still plenty of room in the celebration for anyone lucky enough to be in a relationship and February 14 remains the most popular day of the year for proposals of marriage to be made.
The UK: it hardly needs saying but in the UK, Valentine’s Day remains an important celebration. Mostly targeted at couples, cards and gifts are commonly exchanged with chocolates and flowers – roses in particular – still the top favourites.
France: With a reputation for being the most romantic country in the world, it’s no surprise that France celebrates Valentine’s Day with plenty of passion. While there are no huge French traditions which are common today, there was a very well known celebration named the “loterie d’amour” or the “drawing for love”. Here, men and women would stand opposite one another in the streets of France and pair off. If the men didn’t like their match, they could simply swap the female for another one. It was also during this time that a bonfire would take place, allowing scorned women to burn pictures of their ex partners and insult the opposite sex – offering something for everyone!
South Korea: It might be surprising to learn but Valentine’s Day is extremely popular throughout South Korea with variations of the day taking place from February right up until April. The celebrations begin on 14 February (a day aimed more at younger couples) with women wooing their male partners with candles, chocolates and flowers. Later, on 14 March, the men take their turn at gift giving in a celebration called White Day. Finally, on 14 April, the country marks Black Day which is dedicated entirely to singles. Those unlucky enough to have not found Mr or Mrs Right are able to mourn their single status on this day in a celebration all of their own.
China: China don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day like we Brits do. Instead their day is called; Qixi – the Seventh Night Festival. This celebration takes place on the seventh day on the seventh lunar month which means it is not set in stone on 14 February like ours. The festival originates from a tale about Zhinu, a heavenly kings daughter, and a man named Niulang who was just a poor, lowly cowherd. The pair fell deeply in love, married and had twins but Zhinu’s father did not agree with the match and forced his daughter back to the stars. Unable to cope with the crying of his daughter and her children, he eventually said that Zhinu and Niulang could reunite once a year – on this day – and the festival celebrates this with women preparing fruits and presenting them to Zhinu in the hope of finding a husband.
Italy: They say the early bird catches the worm and it seems Italian women follow this philosophy when it comes to husband hunting. One of the most famous Valentines traditions in Italy involves young single women waking up before dawn on 14 February to spot their husbands. Traditionally, the first man a woman saw on Valentine’s Day was supposed to be her future husband (they would usually marry within the year) but in modern times this has relaxed a little. Italians now celebrate the day with the usual romantic gestures of gifts and romantic meals but young couples can also present one another with traditional “baci perugina” which are small, chocolate covered hazelnuts wrapped in a romantic quote. Cute, right?
South Africa: Ever wondered where the saying “wearing your heart on your sleeve” comes from? Well, it could be from as far away as South Africa as here women literally do this to mark Valentine’s Day! On 14 February, South African ladies pin a paper heart to their sleeve and write the name of the man they love on it. The tradition actually originates from Ancient Rome but was adopted in South Africa and maintained over many years.
Unfortunately, not all countries are as lucky as those mentioned above.
A few countries including Pakistan, Iran and Malaysia have received a large amount of conflict due to the celebration of Valentine’s Day and even banned the occasion entirely. We prefer to follow Saint Valentine’s example and choose love, not war, and hope that the occasion will one day be celebrated universally.
Valentine’s Day in the UK
Far more than simply a date in February when we send romantic gestures to the ones we love, Valentine’s Day has evolved over thousands of years to become one of the biggest occasions of the year. It is celebrated worldwide and it spreads joy and happiness to those with partners, and those without. Plenty of myths and legends surround the day and make it impossible for us to ever really discover the truth of its origins but one thing is unlikely to change – and that is how we mark the occasion. Whether you decide to be dark and mysterious and send an anonymous gift to the apple of your secret affections or want to shout your love for that special someone loud and proud, Valentine’s Day is the day to do it. All you need is a little confidence and perhaps a red rose (or two). Valentine’s Day…that romantic day when most, if not all, of us are guilty of giving into our romantic fantasies and enjoying a day of unashamed love and affection. Here in the UK, the day instantly conjures up images of romantic candle-lit dinners, flowers and chocolates – but have you ever thought about how the rest of the world celebrates Valentine’s Day?
The card says it all
Now, we are all guilty of purchasing a large Valentine’s Day card that is full of soppy lines about how much we love that certain person (and usually adorned with a few hearts and lots of signed kisses for good measure), but did you know how much these cards are actually worth? Well, hold on to your hats…
The Greeting Card Market (GCM) report for 2014 spending found that British people spent a staggering £1.29 billion last year on Valentine’s Day cards – but what’s a bit of money to show our special person you love them, right? The report also highlighted that the average cost of a card £1.44; an increase on £1.34 in 2012.
Paint the town red
Valentine’s Day cards are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to British spending on 14 February. The latest report by The Telegraph found that every year we increase our spending by 10% on the day of love – but who can blame us? It is predicted that we will spend a total of £978 million this year on our husbands, wives and partners with going out on dates, enjoying a romantic weekend away and buying gifts all top of the list of expenses. Proving that they’re not as unromantic as they’d have us believe, men will spend quite a bit more of their money on their lovers than women: £628 million to women’s £355 million. Where we are in the country also affects our Valentine’s Day habits with men in Sheffield and York the biggest spenders – a great incentive for singletons to move there!
It’s the thought that counts
It may seem strange to dedicate so much time to investigating the spending habits of Brits but it seems the topic is one which fascinates people all over the world. American Express also published a report on how much money we like to spend in the UK on 14 February and found that despite changes to our economy only 17% of Brits were going to curb their spending on Valentine’s Day.
It seems that money truly is no object to British romantics with Corinne Sweet, a psychologist, commenting on the particular generosity of men be saying:“Many people, especially men, spend money to please or appease, when their partners would simply like to have more time, thought and appreciation from them.
“However, the personal touch, the little thoughtful gesture, is often more a sign of true love and commitment than extravagant, OTT romantic gestures.”
What this means is that while money is no object, it is often the little things that make the biggest impact. As you’ve probably been told many times before – it’s the thought that counts!
Quick Valentine’s facts
Want to know where all our Valentine’s cash is going? Check out these top spends and facts about Valentine’s in the UK.
In 2013 more than 11 million texts were received on Valentine’s Day – more than any other day in February. Who needs a card in the modern, digital age anyway?
Despite the above, 85% of women actually prefer to receive a card or handwritten letter than a text message. Maybe time to think again boys!
Perfume and aftershave are the most popular gifts to buy each other on the day of love (no, it doesn’t mean that your partner thinks you smell)
27% of lovers buy each other lingerie – ready for a night of passion perhaps?
Belfast was the most popular Valentine’s destination for 2014 and will probably take the title again this year. Booking early might be advised though as £131 is the average amount spent on mini breaks at this time of year
Saying it with flowers never gets old and 14 February sees a rise year on year – up 36% last year
10 Original Ways to celebrate Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is nearly here and you know what that means? Chocolate, flowers, candle-lit dinners, teddy bears and yes, a little more chocolate.
While these things are all lovely – and we all like to receive them now and again – it can make the big day feel just a little bit bland. Once you’ve enjoyed one romantic Valentine’s Day, chances are you’ve experienced them all!
We’ve all done the hearts and flowers thing so why not try something a little different this year? Variety is the spice of life and if you’re looking to really shake up your Valentine’s Day then we have ten unique ways in which you can do it.
1. Volunteer your heart
Volunteer your heart this 14 February by doing some charity work in your local area. Get involved in a community project or take on some themed fundraising – just make sure you spread the love! This is a great activity to enjoy with a partner and will give yourself great personal satisfaction too. You could also send letters and chocolates to local care givers to show your appreciation of them.
2. Add a little culture
Bored by British traditions? Travel the world on Valentine’s Day by celebrating the day in the style of other cultures. Whether you imitate Japanese women who buy chocolate gifts for the men in their life with specific treats designed to reflect different relationships or follow the Finnish footsteps by celebrating Friends Day instead, there are plenty of alternative options out there.
3. Go on a group date
Want a date with a difference this Valentine’s? Why not share your love amongst a wider group and invite friends round for a group date? This might work best with coupled friends but you can always play cupid and invite a few singles along too if you like. Alternatively, organise a separate night on the town with single friends to reduce any pressure they might feel by being surrounded by couples. Group dates are great fun but you remember you don’t have to go to a fancy restaurant. Why not get the men to cook while the women set the table with lovely flowers and the best china?
4. Mix up your presents
Traditional Valentine’s gifts such as chocolates and flowers are great but why not try something different and opt for a more personalised present. A mix tape is a cheeky reference to the past and works particularly well if accompanied by a homemade scrapbook or photo album that documents your journey as a couple.
5. Don’t celebrate on 14 February
Just because everyone else celebrates Valentine’s on 14 February doesn’t mean you have to. Mix things up a little and move the date of your celebrations to make it more special. If you’re heading out for dinner or going away then you might find moving the date keeps your budget in check too!
6. Reinvent the bouquet
Girls love flowers on Valentine’s Day – especially red roses – but why stick with this traditional option when there is so much choice around? Reinvent the usual Valentine’s bouquet by opting for strange and unusual blooms that represent your partner’s character or use flowers to spell out a romantic message in your home. This works particularly well if you have a very special question to pop…
7. Make it a family affair
If you have kids then why not include them in the day? Have them make heart-shaped jellies, biscuits, cakes and treats to enjoy on the day or throw a special romantic party for them and their friends. If you’re little ones already have their own pint-sized sweetheart then why not help them make a card to send?
8. Pack a picnic
It might be a little bit chilly in February but that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a nice romantic picnic! If the weather makes sitting outside out of the question then bring the blanket indoors and set up in front of the fireplace or in a secluded part of the living room. Keep the lights turned low and surround yourself with candles, flowers and romantic decorations – scented incense and candles are highly recommended. Pour a glass of wine and eat delicious strawberries together for an experience that is inexpensive yet unique.
9. Write a poem
Poetry was once a traditional Valentine greeting but over the years many of us have chosen to leave the creativity to card makers rather than having a stab ourselves. Make 2015 the year that this changes by putting pen to paper and writing your other half a poem. You don’t have to be Shakespeare to get good results and those with musical talent can always write a song instead.
10. Give the gift of time
Struggling for a sentimental gift that won’t cost a fortune? Think outside the box and give the gift of time by presenting your partner with homemade coupons that promise them certain things. It could be that DIY project you’ve been putting off for the past 12 months or it could be something a little more intimate, such as a sensual massage – the choice is yours.
How to Survive Valentine’s Day if you’re Single
Perhaps you’re struggling to go it alone or maybe you’re embracing single life and genuinely enjoying the freedom? Well, no matter how much you’re living it up in Singletown, Valentine’s Day – with all its lovey dovey gooiness – can be something of a sharp slap in the face. If you’re likely to spend Valentine’s Day on your own but don’t want to waste the day in mourning then read these tips that will make the whole day much easier to stomach.
Feel smug when seeing couples under pressure
It’s easy to just focus on the pleasant side of what Valentine’s Day means to those in relationships– appreciating their partners, being pampered, a special day for feeling loved. But in reality this often goes hand in hand with a hefty dose of decidedly unpleasant pressure. Should I buy a gift? How much should I spend? Will they be expecting something big? Have I left it too late to book their favourite restaurant? Do they even like Valentine’s Day? So many questions! None of which you need to answer if you’re single!
No money on my mind
A fancy meal, a nice new outfit, a box of chocolates, a piece of jewellery, a dozen red roses… Valentine’s Day is a pricey affair. Even the piece of paper that is the all important card can set you back the best part of a fiver. In the States, a staggering $1 billion is spent solely on chocolate purchased for Valentine’s Day. So rejoice! If you’re single, there’s no need to part ways with your hard earned cash on severely overpriced and overrated Valentines-related consumables. A set menu consisting of three miniscule portions of mass-produced food and a stingy glass of Prosecco? No thank you! Why not take some of your saved cash and treat yourself to something special instead? Shopping in the post Valentine’s Day sales could help you bag a jewellery bargain or get some fancy chocolates for an absolute steal. And you won’t have to share them.
Some facts to keep in mind
Still in need of some reassurance that spending Valentine’s Day alone isn’t the end of the world? These facts should help:
You might feel like the only lone wolf wandering the streets on 14 February but actually there will be about 60 million other people spending Valentine’s Day alone
Not having a romance to celebrate right now doesn’t mean you never will. Nor does a day dedicated to couples mean that it’s something you need at this time. Remember that there are no rules. If you happen to come across a compatible human in time for the “day of love” then great but there’s no need to worry if you don’t!
Love comes in all forms. Having no boyfriend/girlfriend doesn’t mean you aren’t loved in other ways, by other people. There’s sure to be plenty of friends and family that value and love you, so remind yourself of that. You could even celebrate like the Finish with “Friend’s Day” instead – how about that?
Tips for the dreaded day
For those preparing to spend this Valentine’s Day alone, there are certain things you’ll probably want to avoid – especially if you’re a sensitive soul.
Avoid couples. If you’re feeling down about your single status then couples are a danger zone. Do what you can to avoid them if it will upset you. That means steering clear of restaurants, your local cinema and any other traditional “date” venues
Surround yourself with friends and family and enjoy a party at home. This is a great way to avoid seeing hundreds of happy couples enjoying PDAs and will also remind you that there are plenty of people who love you. Why not go as far as to celebrate Singles Awareness Day?
If all else fails, turn to your pet! Animals offer unconditional love so if you have a pet and are feeling down then give both of you something to smile about by heading outside for play or just for a gentle work in a quiet area! Some 3% of pet owners will even give Valentine’s Day gifts and cards to their animals. We’re not saying you should, but the option is there
With these quick tips in mind, it won’t matter if you are single or not this February – you’ll have a great time either way.
Sources: chillisauce.co.uk, greetingcardsassociation.org.uk, huffingtonpost.co.uk, telegraph.co.uk