The celebration of lovers: Where does Valentine’s Day come from?

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It is the only time when men buy more flowers than women: Valentine’s Day. Every year on February 14, the florists’ stores are buzzing. But why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day first, and how did the custom come about?

Flowers, gifts, and love letters—for many couples, these are all part of February 14. But where does Valentine’s Day come from? Is it really a romantic day or pure profiteering? There is a popular rumor that says the latter, claiming that florists brought the day into being. The origin of Valentine’s Day is complicated. Although St. Valentine is invoked, it will probably never be possible to find out exactly which historical figure is behind it.

Who was St. Valentine?
Valentine’s Day appears to be named after St. Valentine from Rome, the patron saint of lovers. Valentine lived in Rome in the 3rd century and married couples according to the Christian rite, although Emperor Claudius II had forbidden this. According to tradition, the marriages of these couples were particularly auspicious. Valentine of Rome is also said to have given the couple flowers from his garden. By order of the emperor, Valentine was beheaded on February 14, 269.

February 14 was originally a day to commemorate St. Valentine, which Pope Gelasius I introduced for the church in 469. In 1969, however, the day was removed from the Roman general calendar because the person of St. Valentine could not be historically proven. In the meantime, however, the church has rediscovered Valentine’s Day for itself and uses February 14 as an occasion for special blessing services.

How did the Valentine’s custom spread?
From the 15th century, so-called “Valentine’s couples” were formed in England, who sent each other small gifts or poems. English emigrants took the Valentine’s custom with them to the United States, and so it was brought to the western part of Germany by US soldiers after the Second World War.

Valentine’s Day celebration in Austria

Alongside Mother’s Day, Valentine’s Day is one of the biggest days for flower retailers in Austria regarding sales. Daily business can be up to ten times higher than usual. In addition to roses, colorful potted plants such as hyacinths, primroses, daffodils, and azaleas are also becoming increasingly popular. According to a study by MAKAM Research2, 78% of Lower Austrians give flowers as Valentine’s Day gifts, and 25% prefer sweets (January 2014, commissioned by the Lower Austrian Chamber of Commerce).

In addition to flowers and sweets, the most popular gifts for Valentine’s Day are jewelry and cards. These sectors are experiencing a major upswing thanks to intensive advertising, but the Valentine’s Day trend is being expanded and repeatedly taken up in new advertising models (such as “Valentine’s Day “), calling on people not only to give their human contemporaries something nice but also to pay more attention to their faithful four-legged friends.

A study by the Human Institute Vienna, in which 800 Austrians were asked about the meaning of Valentine’s Day, shows that the motif of giving gifts can sometimes be misinterpreted. Slightly more than half of those surveyed stated that they had been accused of having the wrong intention when giving a gift (guilty conscience ranked first). Around 59% of respondents confirmed that an accusation like this is no coincidence, stating that remorse can certainly be a motive when giving gifts.

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