The History of Valentine's Day

Saint Valentine

Valentine was a Christian priest in the 3rd century Rome. He was a kind-hearted soul who liked the company of young couples, and would wisely advise them on their future.

The Emperor of the time was Claudius II who, having problems finding enough soldiers to fight his campaigns, outlawed marriage.
Saint Valentine, realizing the injustice, continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret. 

For this act of goodness he was thrown into prison. The jailer?s daughter, Julia, was blind and often visited Valentine in his cell. He described the world for her and told her about God.

One day, during one of her visits, the girl regained her sight. Convinced by the miracle, her family converted to Christianity. Claudius II, irritated by this new act of defiance, condemned Valentine to death. The day before his execution he wrote to Julia, signing his letter ?from your Valentine?.



He was decapitated on February 14th 268 AD. Saint Valentine officially became the patron Saint of lovers in 1496 thanks to Pope Alexander VI.

The Lupercian Festival

Every year on February 15th, as spring approached, the Romans paid tribute to the she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus and honoured the god of Nature and Fertility.

At this festivity, called Lupercalia, young half-naked men ran around the Palatine Hill and Rome, and lashed young women with strips of skin from a slaughtered goat.

It was believed that this could induce fertility and reduce the pain of childbirth. 

Other rituals took place linked to Juno, the goddess of Women and Marriage. The stage had been set for a festivity around the theme of Love.


 The Lupercian festival was a celebration of sensual pleasure, a time to meet and court a prospective mate.

The Lupercian festival was one of the most famous of all Roman festivals.
The Christian popes long tried to eradicate this custom but it wasn't until 495 AD that Pope Gelase I managed to ban the pagan ritual.


He supplanted the Roman festivity with a church-approved celebration of Saint Valentine that was to take place the day before, on February 14th

Lovebirds and Dove

A more romantic legend coming from England says that, in the Middle Ages, mid-February marked the beginning of the mating season for birds like thrushes, partridges, and blackbirds.

The legend travelled down the ages, and Saint Valentine became the patron of the loving ones, granting his protection to all young boys and girls.


In 1595, Shakespeare wrote, a Midsummer Night's Dream, where he put these words in the mouth of one of his characters: Good morrow, friends. Saint Valentine is past: Begin these wood-birds but to couple now.

In the last century, Auguste Angellier wrote:


February comes, it is Saint Valentine,
February comes, and makes the willows redden...
... All the birds, it is Saint Valentine,
Blackbirds, jays, peaks, all impish people,
House sparrows, lively skylarks,
Awaking and shaking their feathers,
With insane desire and uncertain flight,
Sought each other in the last mist.


The dove represents the amorous fulfilment the lover offers to his beloved.

It symbolizes grace, gentleness, purity, simplicity, and sociability.
Indeed, it is one of the most universal metaphors celebrating women.
Forever the dove will remain the symbol of romantic Love.


The swan, favourite bird of Venus, the goddess of the Love, is the noblest. All its life, the male remains faithful to his female and even takes care of the cubs. This bird, symbol of honesty, is regarded as the Messenger of Love.



Son of Venus, the goddess of Beauty, Cupid is the god of Love. He is represented as a chubby winged child carrying a bow and small arrows which stings in the hearts of humans arouse passion.

Whilst his blunt-head arrows, made of reed and lead, drive away Love, his gleaming gold arrows, soaked in a magic Love potion, kindles passion in humans.


Cupid became however a victim of his own weapons, for he fell in love with Psyche, the too curious princess.

Despite Venus's strict prohibition, Psyche opened the casket containing a flask of waters of youth and was immediately plunged into a deadly sleep.


By pricking her with one of his arrows, Cupid awoke Psyche and obtained from Jupiter that he would recognize their marriage.

The victorian valentines

An old-time post office will be open especially for you Place de la Pousterle.

Thanks to it, you will be able to send your Saint Valentine postcards to your beloved....


At the time of Valentine, a "Valentine" was a message of friendship. The message of Love was further introduced in the Middle Ages.


There are traces of this custom in England in the 14th century, where the poet John Gower cited it in the 34th and 35th ballads. In 1381, the father of English poetry, Geoffrey Chaucer, also mentioned this custom.


After the defeat of Azincourt in 1415, Charles of Orleans left England after 25 years of captivity. He brought with him a very romantic English tradition consisting, for a lover, to send his beloved a message full of love and tenderness, called a "Valentine", on Saint Valentine's Day.

From then on, this custom was instituted at the Court of France.

It was only in 1496 that Saint Valentine officially became the patron of Lovers.


Valentines, decorated with hearts and Cupids spread throughout Europe in the 18th century.


At the beginning of the 19th century, Valentines were the most widespread way to declare one's love. They were sometimes anonymous and made the hearts of the young ladies beat.

For those young people who could not write verse of their own for the object of their love, an English editor even proposed Valentines with poems.

Around 1840-1860 appeared the Victorian times Valentines. They were true works of art: quill drawn, decorated with lace, silk, satin, flowers, some even scented, and supplemented with highly romantic poems.

In 1848, an American paper-maker, M. Howland, imported Valentines from England, which immediately drew the attention of his wife.

Very quickly, she hired a dozen of employees and launched a line of products that met with great success in the Americas.


Since 1865, American people have been very keen on these Valentines.


It is only at the end of the 19th century that postcards started being mass-manufactured and that a real postcard industry developed in England, Germany, and the United States.

Nowadays, each year more than one billion postcards are exchanged in the world for Saint Valentine's Day, of which women write 85%.



In the beginning of our 21st century, other means of communication arise: fax, video message, email, and so on. But can any of them replace the old-time "Valentine" that tells so well how much Love unites two Valentines?

The Chocolate

The aphrodisiac virtues of chocolate travelled down the ages as a pretty nice story. Even then, King Montezuma used to drink chocolate daily to fulfil his conjugal duties to his many wives. Some say that Casanova preferred chocolate to champagne. Madame de Pompadour regularly used to drink decilitres of amber chocolate to whip herself up, because Louis XV frequently criticized her for being "cold".
The countess of Barry urged her lovers to drink chocolate.
In 1624, a theologian even condemned the consumption of chocolate in convents.


Nowadays, chocolate is regarded as a synonym of pleasure, sweetness, and delight... And it is no surprise that each of these words is also associated with Love!
For sure, chocolate will remain the partner of Love for a long time still...


Chocolate is a factor of well-being, great pleasure and appeasement.
It also stimulates neurons. Napoleon used to have some during battles. Soldiers who were to mount guard all night long were also given chocolate.
Chocolate is energizing and exhilarating, it has anti-stress virtues and helps overcoming affection deprivation, disappointments and depressive conditions.


Since antiquity, the heart symbolizes Love. After all, doesn't it beat wildly when one is in love?
For Saint Valentine's Day, the enamoured ones like to offer heart-shaped chocolate gifts called "Valentines".


Do not hesitate to purchase Valentines for your beloved to celebrate Saint Valentine's Day.


The language of Flowers

Since antiquity, flowers have been associated to the feelings of Love.
At the time of King Solomon, the rose was already the symbol of Love and Romance.
Cleopatra used to cover the ground with rose petals before receiving Marc Anthony.

The tradition of offering flowers for Saint Valentine's Day is as old as the 16th century. During a party organized for Saint Valentine's Day by one of Henry IV's daughters, each girl received a bunch of flowers from the young man who had chosen her for his Valentine.


According to an old Persian custom, the shape of a bunch of flowers was to indicate affection, attraction or even love.

But it was Lady Mary Wortley Montague, wife of the English ambassador of Constantinople, who first introduced the language of flowers in Europe, in 1718.

To her, flowers can express anything: civilities, friendship, passionate love, reproaches, break-up, etc.

Louise Cortambert, a Frenchwoman who used the pseudonym of Charlotte de la Tour, wrote the first book about the language of flowers in 1819.

The interest of the English people with botany and flowers reached its peak only during the Victorian times. Kate Greenaway, the famous illustrator of children?s books, wrote the first English guide about the secret code of flowers in 1884.

Nowadays anyone can compose his/her own message of Love with flowers, in the purest romantic tradition...

Thus a shy man who does not dare to declare his love will be able to reveal his secret feelings with a bouquet of violets. A tender-hearted lover will offer irises, and one for whom nothing else exists but his beloved, will offer daisies.


A lady friend who receives tulips will know it means a declaration of love, while gladioli represent an invitation to a rendezvous.


The fervour of one's love is evoked by the orchid, the ardour by the carnation, and the desire by the snapdragon. The one who is happy to love will give his beloved an azalea, the pure one a spray of lilies, and the sincere one peonies.

As far as marriage is concerned, the ivy symbolizes fidelity, whereas the lotus announces a birth.


However, the flower of maternity par excellence remains the lilac, flower of Hera, goddess of Women and Children.


One can also level reproaches with buttercups, express his doubts with sweet peas or break off gallantly with chamomile.

Offering flowers can reveal many things. So take care of interpreting properly their language.


Also, please note that each month and each day have a corresponding flower. For instance, February?s flower is the hollyhock and the crocus is the flower of February 14th.

Love traditions

The Brandon Festival :

In the Middle Ages, the term "Valentine" designated the escort chosen by a young lady to accompany her on the first Sunday of Lent: it was the "Brandons" (firebrands) festival.
The day before, the young men of the village harnessed themselves to a cart and dragged it about the streets, stopping at the doors of the houses where girls lived and begging for a faggot. When they had enough, they dragged the cart at some distance from the village, and set it on fire. All the inhabitants  "who came to see the bonfire" danced around the blaze. After the Angelus, once the fire had extinguished, young men and girls used to jump over the embers. It was said that the ones who managed to jump the fire without scorching their clothes would marry in the year.
Then, they used to go to a neighbouring vine carrying an ignited straw yarn rolled around a stick, called a "brandon", in order to protect the vine against all evils. This protective fire, source of fertility and heat, was to make the earth fruitful and the vine vigorous. This festival had existed since earliest antiquity, in druidic times, and was called "Beltaine".


The Saudee

In ancient times in Lorraine, young men got together on February 14th in order to draw up a list of gallants. They wrote down in front of each name the name of a girl, a potential fiancée, without even consulting her.
Sometimes a Valentine girl was chosen by several gallants, and the young men were to plead their cause before a special court.
This custom, called the "Saudée", was to last en entire year! The Valentine boy offered gifts to his beloved, generally in the form of illustrated cards. People even organized a raffle, prized with wine bottles, to make this popular festival more fun.


A Handkerchief

In the past, women used embroidered handkerchiefs to suggest men they should woo them. They dropped their handkerchief inopportunely in order to draw the attention of the man they liked... Besides, it is interesting to notice that the word "lace" comes from the Latin term "laqueare", which means "to catch". Thus a lace handkerchief was supposed to "catch" the heart of the beloved one.


see a bird 

It is also on February 14th that girls tried to guess what kind of husband they would have. To do so, they looked at birds.
A goldfinch was a sign of marriage with a fortunate man.
A robin announced a marriage with a man wearing a uniform (marine, military...).
A sparrow ensured a happy marriage, but with a poor man.
Besides, it was particularly important that the girl should avoid seeing a squirrel on Saint Valentine's Day, because, still according to the ancient belief, it would indicate she would marry a miser who would capture her entire fortune...


Sign a love letter 

At medieval times, people who could not write had to give their assent by signing official documents with an X. The signature took place before witnesses and the signatory was to plant a kiss on the X to prove his sincerity. This kiss was as valuable as oath taking.
Since, Love letters sent on Valentine's Day are sometimes signed with an X that represents a kiss.