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French Lifestyle

Valentine’s Day in France Traditions | 6 fun facts to know

Valentine’s Day in France: a day of love, and romance like in many countries worldwide. In February, love is in the air: from heart-shaped pastries to bouquets of red roses, the French celebrate this romantic holiday pretty much as Americans do. But what are the origins of the traditional French St-Valentine Day and how does it differ from the American one?

Let’s explore the customs, traditions, and rich history behind the French celebrating Valentine’s Day. You may be surprised by some fun facts!

Here are 5 fun things about Valentine’s Day in France to Know

  • St. Valentine’s Day roots aren’t French
  • The Lottery of Love: a weird French matchmaking custom
  • France has designed the heart-shape symbol
  • St. Valentin village of love
  • Valentine’s Day in France is only for couples

Read the related article “18 Unique Christmas Traditions in France by Region to know!”

  • 1. St. Valentine’s Day roots aren’t French

Despite popular belief, the French haven’t invented St. Valentine’s Day. It has developed from a combination of ancient and medieval traditions. Like many Roman Catholic holidays, Valentine’s Day has a rich history that dates back to ancient Rome and the pagan festival of Lupercalia that took place on February 15, a fertility celebration that wasn’t romantic at all.

It was at the end of the 5th century (AD 496) that Pope Gelasius I forbade the celebration of Lupercalia and replaced it with the feast of St. Valentine to honor this Christian martyr, Valentinus of Rome, who died on February 14, AD 269. Not romantic either… However, this 3rd-century Roman priest has something to do with romantic love since he died because he secretly married men though it was banned by Emperor Claudius II’s decree outlawing the marriage of soldiers.

While in England, Saint Valentine’s association with courtship and romantic love took place in the Middle Ages, in Geoffrey Chaucer’s 1375 poem “Parliament of Fowls” about birds choosing their mates on St. Valentine’s Day, in France, it is the Duke of Orleans’ poem (1443-50) that is referred as the earliest known Valentine message: “I’m already wearied by love, my very sweet Valentine.”

  • 2. The Lottery of Love: a weird French matchmaking custom

This medieval courtly love practice called “la loterie d’amour”, a matchmaking lottery, dates back to the time of knights who were to devote themselves to the service of a married lady for a year, their “Valentine”.

This love lottery then became a popular custom involving single people who would pair off by shouting at each other across the street, creating fleeting couples. Awkward…

However, if a man disliked the woman he was paired with, he could ditch her. Full of resentment, the left-behind women would burn the pictures of the men who dumped them around a bonfire. How fun right? Though it was meant to be amusing at first, you can imagine how it could get out of hand. So the French government had to ban it because it caused too much trouble and violence.

  • 3. France designed the heart-shape symbol
St-Valentine first romantic-love-artistic-illustration-a-man-on-his-knees-holding-a-heart-shaped-cone-to-a-lady

It was in 13th-century medieval France that the 1st the first known heart-shaped symbol of love was created. The French manuscript “Roman de la Poire” illustrates romantic love, showing a man on his knees, holding a pine-cone-shaped heart up to a lady. Here’s an interesting fact: back then and till the 15th century, the heart was represented upside down.

  • 4. St. Valentin: the official village of love

Paris is not the city of love, St. Valentin village is!

This sweet French little village named after the patron Saint-Valentin holds an annual St. Valentine’s Day festival that lasts 3 days, attracting visitors worldwide. It has become the place to go to for lovers, pretty much like Las Vegas.

During your visit, you can hang your personalized heart-shaped metal sheet, a symbol of commitment, on the Tree of Vows; you can propose or renew your vows under the Tree of Eternal Hearts; you can plant a tree, a symbol of flourishing love, in the Lovers Garden; and you can get a Lovers Certificate to validate your marriage pledge. Such a romantic program!

  • 5. Valentine’s Day in France is only for couples

I was surprised when in the US, my kids exchanged cards with their classmates on Valentine’s Day because in France, only couples give gifts to each other. Here in France, adults don’t give cards to their friends or loved ones either. It is only reserved for romantic couples.

Read the related article “5 Weird French Christmas Food Traditions to try or not!”

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How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Please share your thoughts and experience below!

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8 Comments

  1. Sariya says:

    Hey thank you for this post!

    I enjoyed learning about the traditions of valentines day in france, the differences as well as the similarities. I wasn’t aware valentines day has its root in france, they must celebrate it with full passion. 

    I always thought valentines day is for couples it makes sense however learning that in some countries like US kids exchange cards and gifts is interesting.

    Thanks again and have a great day!

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Hello and thank you for your comment. Yes, the tradition of St. Valentine’s Day in France is only for couples! I also found it interesting that its origins are rooted in France.

      You may be interested in reading 18 Unique Christmas Traditions in France By Region To Know! 

  2. Jill Alexa says:

    Hi Anne-Caroline,

    What a wonderful post. It was very special to me as I have a very special man in my life and am sure he will be treating me to something special on Valentine’s Day. I would love to visit St. Valentin Village in France. Perhaps I should whisper that in his ear.

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      How sweet! St. Valentin Village is indeed the place to be on St. Valentine’s Day!! Thank you for your comment!

      You may be interested in reading 5 Weird French Christmas Food Traditions To Try or Not!

  3. Elaine says:

    Thank you for sharing these fun facts about the origin of Valentine’s Day.  I had no idea about the origins of this celebration.  I love the fact about the love heart symbol and that it was depicted upside-down to how we see it now!  This would be a great little lesson to teach primary school children!

    I’m from the UK and back in the 1980s I remember Valentine’s cards were only exchanged by couples or you might receive one from a secret admirer!  Now however, as with many things, companies have capitalised on this celebration by creating cards and gifts for family members, friends etc.  

    I’m old-school – so although I love my children dearly, I dont feel the need to send them a Valentine Card!   That is something I give to my husband (and it might even be recycled or handmade!!).

    Thanks again and Happy Valentine’s!

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Hello and thank you for your comment! I agree with you that Valentine’s Day should be celebrated between couples! It’s only for marketing purposes that it got extended to kids, friends, and family members.

      You may be interested in reading 18 Unique Christmas Traditions in France By Region To Know!

  4. Sara Tadros says:

    Hey Anne-Caroline, 

    I liked your post. It is very interesting. I never thought Valentine’s Day customs in France differed from any other country. According to your post, Valentine’s Day customs in France are exciting and culturally diverse. Finding out how Valentine’s Day is observed differently in France than in other nations is fascinating. Our knowledge of global cultural diversity is deepened and given a unique appeal by the exciting facts and distinctive customs surrounding this day in France. These subjects teach us about various traditions while demonstrating how romance and love are universally cherished but have specific regional characteristics.

    1. Anne-Caroline says:

      Absolutely! Thank you for your comment! Exchanging cards between family and friends is mainly the difference between Valentine’s Day in France vs. the US.

      You may be interested in reading 5 Weird French Christmas Food Traditions To Try or Not!

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