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Valentine’s Day – Where Our Love Affair with Cupid Really Began

Valentine’s Day – Where Our Love Affair with Cupid Really Began

It happens every year on 14 February and whether you have a partner or not, most of us can’t help but get carried away with the romance of it all.  Valentine’s Day holds a special place in the hearts of many people, especially me as the day represents a double celebration having welcomed my first child into the world on Valentine’s 2010!  Whilst for couples and singletons alike the day offers the chance to ramp up the romance, where our love affair with Cupid really began is a mystery to many…

A brief history of Valentine’s Day

Despite Valentine’s Day now being all about spreading love and gifting huge amounts of chocolate, flowers and jewels, its roots offer a much darker history.  Like many modern day practices and holidays, Valentine’s Day was introduced in the pre-Christian era by the Romans.  Celebrated across three days in total, from 13 to 15 February, this national holiday was officially a fertility festival in the early years where in ancient Rome, the festival would see men stripped naked and women whipped to enhance their fertility!  Whilst its connection with celebrating love and relationships continues up to the present day, I’m very glad to say the traditions practiced on those fateful days are very different to how we celebrate the holiday today.  

In AD 197, this classic pagan festival evolved after a Christian referred to as Valentine of Terni was martyred by then Emperor Aurelian on the 14 February.  Some years later under the reign of Emperor Claudius, another man known only as Valentine of Rome, was also martyred on this date and whilst not a lot is known about the story of early Valentine of Terni, the story associated with Valentine of Rome is a romantic tale to tell.  It is believed that Valentine had been arrested for secretly carrying out weddings, which was illegal at the time due to a ruling by the Emperor banning young men from marrying.  During his time in prison, Valentine of Rome healed his jailer’s blind daughter’s sight and later the pair began a love affair in which a series of notes were exchanged.  Each note was signed ‘From your Valentine’, a term of endearment that is still used today.

In AD 496 the Pope declared 14 February to be St Valentine’s Day, a Christian feast day and almost one thousand years later on this day the aptly named High Court of Love opened in Paris to deal with all affairs of the heart including marriage contracts, divorces and infidelity.  In AD 1601 St Valentine’s Day entered into popular consciousness with Shakespeare mentioning the day in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet.  It wasn’t until the middle of the 18th century however, that the passing of love notes became custom on Valentine’s Day in England.  The commercial production of cards didn’t begin until 1847, and early St Valentine’s Day cards were handmade from lace and paper.  The commercialisation of Valentine’s is said to have officially started in 1913 when the day became a ‘Hallmark Holiday’.

Valentine’s Day by numbers

Now worth an estimated £9.2 billion in the United States alone, Valentine’s Day is still the number one time to pop the question, tie the knot or simply say how you feel, and statistically it is the second most card heavy celebration, with Christmas taking the top spot.   An estimated one billion Valentine’s Day cards are sent worldwide each year, and the giving doesn’t end there.  Gift giving is something many other halves love to indulge in, and whilst the modern day market offers heaps of inspiration for finding the perfect present, flowers are the go-to gift for many.  Approximately 73% of men purchase flowers on Valentine’s Day for that special someone in their lives.  With the rose being the favourite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love, bouquets made up of these buds in particular are very popular and nearly half of all flowers sent on Valentine’s Day in Britain last year were roses.

In the UK, around half of the nation spend money on Valentine’s gifts and cards, with this day alone accounting for around £1.3 billion of sales.  

A recent survey revealed that men considered Christmas Eve the most romantic time to pop the question, however the ideal proposal day for women is Valentine’s Day.  In the United States, six million couples get engaged on Valentine’s Day every year and over 2.2 million couples choose to tie the knot on this date, following in the footsteps of celebrities such as actress Salma Hayek, Hollywood power couple Harrison Ford and Calista Flockhart, and funny man Vince Vaughn.

Valentine’s traditions around the world

We all like to celebrate Valentine’s Day in our own special way, and it is likely you have developed some of your own traditions as a couple over the years, but around the world there are some wonderful customs you may not have come across.  In some countries, such as Finland, Estonia and South America, Valentine’s Day is less about celebrating love for your partner and more about commemorating the love you have for your friends.  In South Korea and Japan on the other hand, the gender bias often associated with Valentine’s Day in the Western world is turned on its head with customs dictating that only women should give gifts to men.  A little closer to home, in Norfolk Valentine’s celebrations involve Jack Valentine (a Santa of sorts) knocking on the doors of houses and leaving sweets for children!

In other countries, Valentine’s Day isn’t celebrated at all.  It is Mexico’s national day of mourning, whilst in parts of the Middle East the holiday is actually banned by law as the giving and receiving of roses was deemed to encourage extra-marital affairs.  

Love is all you need

Whether you are planning to pop the question or not this Valentine’s Day, using the holiday to celebrate your love and your relationship is a beautiful way to spend 24 hours. Enjoy!

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