Valentine’s Day history and curiosities

Learn more about Valentine's Day / Pixabay
Learn more about Valentine's Day / Pixabay
11 February 2020, Marilia Poiares

Around the world, Valentine’s Day is celebrated on the 14th of February. Even though this festive day is now viewed as a pop culture festivity, deeply intertwined with consumerism, it has a historical background that most people don’t know about.

Its origin is uncertain, and it’s based on various stories and legends. However, the most accepted version is the one regarding Valentine, a saint born in the Umbria region of Italy, in 174 B.C. This saint, a symbol of health (Valentine means “healthy”), kindness and love, is usually represented with a palm and a sword, symbols of matrimonial union.

Given that there are different versions regarding the death of such saint and that many of them haven’t been proven, the Catholic Church stopped celebrating this holiday in 1969, but all around the world, it is still a very important date.

The legend of the forbidden weddings

Another legend that explains the origin of Valentine’s Day is based around a bishop named Valentine. According to it, Claudio II, the emperor of Rome, forbade all the weddings in order to have more men to send into battle because women were said to be a distraction for the soldiers. Meanwhile, however, Bishop Valentine was spreading the word about the importance of love and married many people who wanted to escape the prohibition created by the emperor. Later, Valentine was discovered, incarcerated, tortured and killed on the 14th of February 268.

Legend of the lovers

According to this version, Valentine was responsible for the first marriage between a pagan legionary and a Christian woman, becoming the patron saint of all lovers. The woman was severely ill, and the young man begged the bishop to marry them before it was too late. The Bishop did so, baptising the man and marrying them in the woman’s bedroom and, later, they both died, together, as husband and wife.

The Lupercales theory

Many people believe that the celebration of Valentine’s Day derives from the Lupercales Festival, celebrated in Ancient Rome on the 15th February. The name Lupercales comes from Lupus (wolf, that represented the God Faunos) and Hircus (goat, a non-pure animal) and represented the beginning of adult life. Young men would run naked down the streets, hitting women supposedly to bring them fertility. They would also run in the woods for days on end, to prove their capability of survival.

During the Middle Ages, people started creating different versions of Lupercales that would go against the moral rules of the Church so, the Church intervened to regulate the celebration.

Curiosities and traditions

  • In Portugal, in Guimarães, the cantarinha dos namoradosis a very common Valentine’s Day gift that keeps a very old tradition alive. When a man decided to make the official marriage proposal, he had to give his fiancée a “cantarinha”, a jug made of clay. If the answer was “yes” and if the parents approved of the wedding, this jug was then used to store the gifts that the groom and the parents of the bride would give her, which would usually be pieces of gold jewelry.
  • Also, in Portugal, the “Lenço dos Namorados” is an important tradition that dates back to the 16th and 17th centuries. Women would wear beautiful embroidered handkerchiefs in order to attract men in a very educated courtship in local parties. The scarf was given to the suitor and if he accepted, it would be worn on his coat, neck or even on his hat and if not, it would be returned to the girl. The embroideries would illustrate the love between the couples, with beautiful colours and drawings. In Braga, the tradition remains, and many people give and receive an embroidered scarf as a Valentine’s Day gift.
  • In Brazil, Valentine’s Day is celebrated on the 12th of June, the day before Saint Anthony’s Day, since this is the saint associated with marriage and Valentine the saint associated with lovers.

  • In Germany, a pig is the most famous Valentine’s Day gift and it can come in any shape or form: a photograph, a drawing, a figurine… for Germans, the pig is a symbol of luck and lust.

  • In China, many people celebrate Valentine’s Day on the 14th of February, but it can also be celebrated at the beginning of August, on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month. Legend says that, at the beginning of times, a fairy named Zhi Nu and a mortal named Niu Lang fell in love. The Sky Goddess was against their love and separated them, transformed Zhi Nu into a Vega star, trapped Niu Lang in the sky and created the Milky Way to keep them apart. But, on this day, they can see each other.

  • The first Valentine’s Day chocolate box was designed by Richard Cadbury in 1800.

  • In the last few decades, the amount of births on the 14th of February has increased thanks to scheduled C-sections.

  • In the Middle Ages, this date was also representative of the mating rituals between birds and young men used to leave letters for their loved ones on their doorsteps.

  • On the US, more than 15% of women receive flowers they have sent to themselves.

  • Teachers are the biggest receivers of Valentine’s Day cards, and more than 650 million cards are exchanged between kids from 6 to 10 years old.

  • On Valentine’s Day, more than 50 million roses are bought all around the world…

  • …and there are more than 220,000 marriage proposals.

  • Each year, on this day, Verona, the Italian city that witnessed the love between Romeo and Juliet, receives millions of letters addressed to Juliet, asking for love advice.

  • The biggest, most spectacular Valentine’s Day gift in the world is the Taj Mahal in India, commissioned in 1632 by the Mughal emperor, Shah Jahan to house the tomb of his favourite wife, Mumtaz Mahal.

Now that you are filled with Valentine’s Day spirit and ready to celebrate with your better half, why not prepare a romantic getaway in a beautiful Portuguese city? Read this article to find the best accommodations in cities like Sintra, Óbidos or Viseu.

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