Valentine’s Traditions in Europe
The creation of Valentine’s traditions is only fairly recent. The association of Valentine’s Day with romantic love began since the time of Geoffrey Chaucer, the Father of English Literature.
For this was on St. Valentine’s Day,—Geoffrey Chaucer, Father of Literature, “Parlement of Foules” (1382)
When every bird cometh there to choose his mate.
Prior to that, however, Valentine’s Day was originally established as the Feast of Saint Valentine in honour of the martyrdom of Saint Valentine of Rome, a third-century Roman saint whose flower-crowned skull remains on display to this day in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome. Since the 14th century, however, the association between Valentine’s Day and romance grew ever stronger, until it spread throughout Europe and birthed all kinds of interesting traditions associated with Valentine’s. Here are some of the most interesting Valentine’s traditions from Europe.
France will always be associated with romance so long as Paris, the city of love, remains a part of France. There’s even a village in central France named Saint-Valentin, after the Roman saint. It is today recognised as a Village of Love, or “le village des amoureux”; from 12 to 14 February every year, there will be a Saint-Valentine Festival, during which the village will be decorated with red roses all over. Each year, couples from all over the world would travel to this village on Valentine’s day to propose, or create vows to be hung on the Tree of Vows. There is an old French Valentine’s Day custom which has been banned by the French government, called “une loterie d’amour” where singles paired off in houses that faced opposite of each other; at the end of the day, a large bonfire will be built for jilted women to burn images of the men who left them while cursing them. Since 2014, however, Paris had been promoting a service by the city where, on Valentine’s Day, all 170 billboards in the capital will display messages sent in to the government website for Paris.
Denmark only began celebrating Valentine’s Day during the 1990’s, but they have developed a very unique tradition since then. Firstly, white flowers called snowdrops are given to friends and lovers rather than roses. Secondly, they exchange a lover’s card, which is traditionally a photo of the card giver offering a gift. And lastly, there’s something called a “gaekkebrev” which translates to “joke letter” but is actually a poem written on specially cut paper; it does not contain a signature, however, so the recipient has to guess the sender based on the patterns cut into the paper; if the woman correctly guesses the sender, then she will get an Easter egg that same year.
Valentine’s Day has competition in Wales; Dydd Santes Dwynden is the Welsh equivalent of Valentine’s Day celebrated every year on 25 January, where it celebrates Dwynden, the patron saint of lovers. The legend concerns Dwynden, a 5th century princess, who fell in love with a man named Maelon, but the king disapproved of their union and so arranged for Dwynden to be married off to someone else. Dwynden prayed that she may fall out of love for Maelon, and then she was visited by an angel carrying a potion that would erase her memory of him but which would also freeze him in a block of ice. She was then given three wishes by God, and she wished thus: first, that Maelon be thawed; second, that God meets the hopes and dreams of true lovers; and third, that she would never marry. Since the 16th century, Welsh couples would exchange intricately-carved wooden spoons called lovespoons during Dydd Santes Dwynden. The carvings on the lovespoon are fraught with symbolism, e.g., horseshoes for luck, locks for security, and prayer beads for the number of children desired.
Arguably the country of origin for the modern celebration of Valentine’s Day as a day of love thanks in no small part to Geoffrey Chaucer’s poem cited at the beginning of this article, England has long had the custom of sending Valentine cards, flowers and chocolates anonymously, though these days things are not as anonymous as they used to be. Valentine’s is much more than that in the English county of Norfolk, however. Norfolk Valentine’s traditions are like a mashup of Valentine’s Day, Christmas, and a little bit of Halloween. Apart from the usual Valentine’s practices, there’s Jack Halloween, a Santa Claus-like figure who goes around and knocks on the door and leaves little treats, such as biscuits with heart stickers, either on the doorsteps or stuck to the door without being seen. Accompanies by this are pranks of varying degrees: some would knock and hide, only to laugh at the unlucky party as they open the door to find nothing; others might leave a huge parcel on the doorsteps, and then the recipient would tear through many layers only to be greeted with a nasty note. In the 1800’s, children would also go around and sing rhymes in exchange for cakes and coins and other treats before dawn.
Valentine’s Day is known to Italians as La Festa Degli Innamorati, or The Party of Lovers. As a people known for their passion, they have a few interesting traditions for Valentine’s as well. In the towns of Terni and Bussolengo, big celebrations are held for Valentine’s Day. In the town of Quero, a huge pile of oranges are blessed by a priest, then hurled down a slope near the church of St. Valentine. In the village Vico del Gargano, the town, as well as the statue of St. Valentine, would be decorated with innumerable oranges every 14th of February, and a slow procession with the statue would take place in the streets. Why oranges? It’s because in Italy, flowers from the orange tree are symbolic of fortunate brides and happy marriages.
So, what do you think? Which of these Valentine’s traditions are you eager to try for yourself? Let us know in the comments down below!
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