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
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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