It’s that time of year again, and we’re in the mood for love. Well… we’re in the mood for some Valentine’s-inspired fun anyway, so why not join in? Find out how it all began, how Valentine’s Day is celebrated across Europe, and – if you really want to impress your loved one – how to say ‘Happy Valentine’s Day’ in 20 different languages.
How did it all start?
Historically, February 14th marks the feast day of St Valentine, said to have been imprisoned in the 3rd century for performing illegal weddings. According to legend, he sent his own love a farewell note on his execution day, signed ‘from your Valentine’.
The custom of sending notes and gifts on this feast day began in medieval England, and by the 18th century it had really flourished, with the sending of flowers, confectionery and lavish homemade cards. The traditional symbols of Valentine’s Day – hearts, Cupids, doves, lace, roses – date back to this time.
In the 19th century modern printing methods led to handmade cards being replaced by mass-produced ones, and so the marketing of Valentine’s Day began.
How much is it worth?
Today Valentine’s Day means big business for greetings card manufacturers, confectioners, jewellers, florists (and producers of cut flowers) and the hospitality industry.
Here are some facts about how much money we spend in the UK alone – and what we spend it on:
- The total spent each year on Valentine’s Day cards, flowers and other gifts is around £1 billion.
- Almost half the population spend money on Valentine’s Day.
- Around 25 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year.
- Men spend around twice as much as women on Valentine’s Day gifts.
- Flowers are the number one present bought by men – other gifts in the Top 10 include perfume, lingerie and jewellery.
- The number one present bought by women is chocolates – others include aftershave, computer games and cuddly toys.
- Dinner in a restaurant has always been a popular gift, but rising in popularity are spa days and nights away in hotels.
How do they celebrate Valentine’s Day in Finland?
As the celebration of Valentine’s Day spread from the UK across Europe (and the rest of the world), many countries developed their own unique traditions.
In Finland, February 14th is called Ystävänpäivä, which means ‘Friend’s Day. Here Valentine’s Day is all about celebrating friendship – there are no romantic connotations. Finnish people send cards and gifts to show their appreciation of their friends as well as loved ones.
On Valentine’s Day in Germany, in addition to the usual cards and flowers, people exchange lebkuchenherz. These are large heart-shaped gingerbread biscuits with iced messages of love and ribbons attached to hang round your loved one’s neck. Pigs are a unique feature of German Valentine’s Day cards and gifts – they are a symbol of luck and lust.
In Denmark there is a delightful Valentine’s Day tradition in which Danish men send an anonymous poem written on carefully folded and cut paper, called a gaekkebrev. The sender signs his message with dots – one for each letter of his name – and the recipient has to guess who he is. If she gets it right, he has to buy her an Easter egg later in the year.
Traditionally February 15th was celebrated in Italy as Lupercalia, a festival of spring in which young people would walk together outside, listening to poetry and music. An old custom associated with this festival was that single women would marry the first man they saw that day. Today, it is traditional for Italians to give their loved ones a box of hazelnut chocolates (Baci Perugina) on Valentine’s Day.
In France, a raucous Valentine’s Day tradition arose, called Une Loterie d’Amour. Single men and women would call out to each other through the windows of opposing houses, until they were paired off. If the men weren’t happy with their match, they could leave them for another. The spurned women would build a bonfire, burn images of the men, and shout out abuse. Eventually this was banned by the government as it got out of hand. Today the French celebrate Valentine’s Day in more conventional ways, like most other European countries.