February 14 is considered the Day of love and lovers. But why is it so? Please read about the meaning of Valentine’s Day, its history and customs here.
When is Valentine’s Day?
Every year February 14 is Valentine’s Day. In many countries around the world, people give flowers and chocolates, express affection or even get married on this date. Malicious tongues claim that Valentine’s Day is an invention of florists and chocolate manufacturers, but the custom goes back hundreds of years.
Meaning of Valentine’s Day – short version
Bishop Valentine of Terni originally commemorated Valentine’s Day. There are many legends about this saint. For example, he is said to have married soldiers, although this was forbidden. Another story says that he gave flowers from his garden to lovers. The tradition of celebrating romantic love on this Day developed in the 14th century. In Germany, Valentine’s Day became popular (again) only after World War 2.
Origin of St. Valentine’s Day: Who was Valentine of Terni?
Saint Valentine is considered the “father of Valentine’s Day.” He lived in the 3rd century and was bishop of Interamna, today’s Terni in Umbria in central Italy. In many traditions, there is also talk of a Valentine of Rome. This may be the same person. Nowadays, there are so many myths and legends about Valentine of Terni that it can be assumed that the stories of different people have been mixed up or that some have been invented or handed down wrongly.
Valentine of Terni certainly died as a martyr. Allegedly, he was executed on February 14, 269 AD. 200 years later; the church established 14.02. as a day of remembrance. This is how Valentine’s Day came into being in its original sense.
The legends surrounding the life and work of St. Valentine contributed to the significance of Valentine’s Day. These include, for example, the following stories:
Valentine of Terni was supposedly known as a miracle healer. As a result, he is said to have won many people to the Christian faith, which landed him in prison during the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire. During his imprisonment, he is said to have healed the blind daughter of an overseer and sent her a love letter before his death, which he signed “Your Valentine.”
As a priest, Valentine of Terni is said to have married lovers in a Christian way despite being forbidden. In many stories, this is the reason for his execution. Especially for soldiers, marriage was forbidden at that time, and it is precisely those that Bishop Valentine is said to have married their beloved wives. It is said that the marriages he performed were particularly auspicious.
According to the legend, Bishop Valentine was also an enthusiastic gardener. He is said to have given flowers to all lovers who passed by his monastery garden. He also gave plants as gifts to the couples he (illicitly) married in Christianity.
Other theories about the origin of Valentine’s Day
In the Roman Empire, February 14 is believed to have been a day of remembrance for Juno, the goddess of birth, marriage and care. Flower offerings were made to mark the occasion. Supposedly, young women also went to a temple on this Day for a love oracle. Sometimes the origin of Valentine’s Day and its customs is believed here.
Already more than 2000 years ago in Rome, there were luperkalia. They were the main festival of the herd god Faunus, also called Lupercus. This was, among other things, a fertility festival about the fertilization of the land, the herds and the people. Married women collected marriage blessings from priests. The festival traditionally took place on February 15 and may also have contributed to the rituals surrounding Valentine’s Day today.
Another theory is that the origin of Valentine’s Day can be found in the Middle Ages, among the troubadours in southern France. Knights practiced minstrelsy, sang love poetry, and addressed it to honoured ladies of society. However, this was more of a ritual than a romantic expression of emotion.
In mid-February, the mating season of birds begins, and spring approaches. Mating in the animal kingdom was transferred to human customs. Symbolically, February 14, Valentine’s Day, marks the beginning of this time.
Ancient Valentine’s Day customs
“Valentine Greetings” are documented for the first time in the 14th century. The poem “The Parliament of Fowls” (“The Parliament of Birds”) by the British writer Geoffrey Chaucer is considered one of the earliest evidence that Valentine’s Day was celebrated as a day for lovers.
In the Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day had a special meaning. It was believed that women would marry the first man they saw on Valentine’s Day. For this reason, men had the custom of giving a bouquet to their beloved as early as possible in the morning on Valentine’s Day.
In 18th century England, lovers developed the custom of sending greeting cards (“Valentines”) and giving flowers and sweets (often anonymously) on Valentine’s Day. In France, on the other hand, Valentine and Valentine were chosen by lot and subsequently lived for a year as betrothed. A similar custom is said to have existed in Rome. Here also by lot, a pair of two unmarried ones were determined, walking only on Valentine’s Day together by the city. For some, however, it is said to have sparked.
How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day in Austria?
Traditionally, lovers in Germany and Austria give each other flowers and sweets on Valentine’s Day. Cards, letters, perfume, and jewelry are also on the gift list. And this is even though more than 58 percent would be happier about a joint activity than material things. (Statista)
The statistics show: Men are more likely to give away flowers (33%) and travel (16%), while women primarily give dinner together (31%) and other personal items (21%).
What is the significance of Valentine’s Day in other countries?
In Italy, lovers put up so-called love locks on Valentine’s Day. The locks are labelled with names and attached to bridge railings. The key is then thrown into the water – since love hopefully lasts forever, the lock never has to be opened again.
In Japan, the gifts on Valentine’s Day come mainly from women. Traditionally, they give dark chocolate to partners or husbands, friends, relatives, colleagues and the boss. A month later, it’s the men’s turn to give the women white chocolate.
In Sweden, Valentine’s Day has only been celebrated since the 1980s. It is called “Day of All Hearts,” and traditionally, red wine gum hearts are given away.
Other days are more important for lovers in other countries than Valentine’s Day. In Wales, for example, it is January 25, the commemoration of St. Dwynwen, the patron saint of love. Here, ornately carved wooden spoons are given as gifts. In Spain, April 23 is significant instead, Dia de St. Jordi. Women usually give books as gifts, while men give a single red rose.
In Finland, by the way, Valentine’s Day celebrates friendship. So if you’re single or not a romantic – why not give a small gift to your best friends?
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