Everyone is seeing red. Valentine’s Day is here. The day for lovers, for family, for friends, for co-workers – the official day when we show the important people in our lives how much they mean to us. The day is celebrated with cards, flowers and chocolates – and lots of them. Many of us grew up with the annual tradition of Valentine’s Day, we remember our parents and grandparents reminiscing about it.
But how long has this special day actually been around? The answer is quite simple: Forever. The beginnings of this romantic day are anything but romantic – they are rather mysterious. Christian and Pagan rituals evolved into the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated today.
Many legends surround the saint named Valentine. One story tells about Valentine, a Roman priest, who secretly married young lovers until he was found out and thrown into prison. There, he fell in love with a young woman who visited him on a regular basis. Shortly before his death he penned her a letter and signed it ‘from your Valentine,’ a phrase that is still associated with this special day. All the tales that speak of the beginnings of this tradition center around a romantic hero named Valentine.
The British Library in London has the oldest Valentine’s card on display – written in 1415 by the Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was held in the Tower of London. Americans started designing their own hand-made cards, beautifully decorated with ribbons and lace, as far back as 1700. In 1840 these cards were replaced by the first printed, mass-produced cards. About 150 million Valentine’s Day cards exchange hands every year, only the number of Christmas cards is higher; 85% are bought by women.
Many countries around the world celebrate the day with their own traditions. Denmark sees the exchange of pressed, white flowers called snowdrops. France, with a reputation for romance, had a rather unusual tradition. On February 14, men and women would fill up houses on opposite sides of a street. Then they would call out to each other and pair off that way. The women who were left behind later gathered for a huge bonfire where they burned pictures of the men who stood them up and insulted them greatly. Over the years, this event got so out of hand that the French government banned it altogether. In China women prepare elaborate offerings of fruit to Zhinu, a heavenly king’s daughter, in hopes of attracting a worthy husband.
How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day?
Written by Silke Hansen, ESL Instructor