French Tradition: La Saint-valentin
La Saint-Valentin or Valentine’s Day has become a commercial celebration spread across Western Europe and today it revolves around the giving of cards and gifts to the one you love. But where does this tradition come from? Do the French do it differently?
There are many different answers to this question as to the origins of St Valentine’s Day remain something of a mystery. While this tradition began as a Christian liturgy festival celebrating the various saints named Valentinus gradually, myths were added to this celebration of 14th February. Notably, the popular account of Saint Valentine of Rome who was imprisoned for conducting weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry became associated with February 14th. During his imprisonment he fell in love with the daughter of his jailer and before his execution left her a letter signed ‘Your Valentine’. The tradition developed from there and the 14th February became the day of love that we know today.
What do the French do on Valentine’s Day? Traditionally the French celebrated Valentine’s Day with “une loterie d’amour”. This custom saw single people in France standing outside houses calling out for other singletons until they eventually paired off together. If the male were not particularly attracted to his new suitor he would leave her. All of the single women who had been left would then gather to make a fire and burn images of the men that had abandoned them. This ceremony, whilst rather therapeutic for the single women involved, soon got out of hand and was banned by the French government.
Following this ban, in a much less dramatic way, the French would send Valentines greetings. The first recorded French Valentine greeting was allegedly sent by the Duke of Orleans who, imprisoned in the Tower of London, is said to have sent poems and love letters to his wife in France.
Contemporary Valentine’s Day traditions have changed and now revolve around the giving of gifts. French florists turnover what they would usually make in a week on Valentine’s Day, with 80 percent of their sales being roses. There is in fact a village called St Valentin in Indre that is named after St Valentine himself. The village thus holds many events dedicated to this celebration of love on this amorous day including numerous marriage vow renewals. This year ‘le village des amoureux’ is hosting a spectacle including the presentation of certificates to lovers, a lunch and a concert, engraving hearts for the Tree of Hearts, and the sale of speciality chocolate and jewellery!
We hope that you enjoy this celebration of love! Be careful, the French celebration of Valentine’s Day is only one of love, not of friendship. Typically the French do not send cards at all on La Saint-Valentin and additionally they do not send out valentines gifts to their friends, only to their lovers! So do not get that mixed up!
Here is some French love vocabulary to get you inspired:
- Un amoureux / une amoureuse – a sweetheart
- Mon chéri, ma chérie, mon amour…
- Joyeuse Saint Valentin – happy Valentine’s Day.