We all regard Valentine's Day as this annual day of love with flowers, chocolates, cards and romance. It’s a time to spoil your other half and show them how much you adore and appreciate them; or an opportunity to woo that special someone you have admired from afar. But what do you really know about the day – its origin, traditions and ways to celebrate? – you may be surprised!
So, how did Valentine’s Day come about?
The most popular belief is that Emperor Claudius II didn't want Roman men to marry during wartime. Bishop Valentine went against these demands and performed secret weddings. For this, Valentine was jailed and executed. Whilst in jail, he wrote a note to the jailor's daughter signing it "from your Valentine".
Another theory is that Valentine's Day originates from a Roman Festival called Lupercalia - a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, held on 15th February. During the celebrations, boys drew names of girls from a box and the pair would be partnered during the festival. Often these matches resulted in marriage. Lupercalia was outlawed at the end of the 5th century when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St Valentine's Day.
Whatever you believe its origins to be, like many festivals there have been a number of superstitions over the years including:
In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who would be their Valentine. They would wear this name pinned onto their sleeves for one week for everyone to see. This was the origin of the expression "to wear your heart on your sleeve”.
Girls of medieval times ate bizarre foods on this day to make them dream of their future spouse.
In Victorian times, it was considered bad luck to sign a Valentine’s Day card.
On the eve on Valentine’s Day, women in England used to place five bay leaves on their pillows — one at each corner and one in the centre — to bring dreams of their future husbands. Alternatively, they would wet bay leaves with rosewater and place them across their pillows.
An Italian tradition was for young, unmarried girls to wake up before dawn to spot their future husbands. The belief was that the first man a woman saw on Valentine’s Day was the man she would marry within a year, or strongly resemble who she would marry.
Despite it’s early beginnings, Valentine’s Day was only declared official in the UK in 1537, by King Henry VII. However, it wasn't until the 18th century that Valentine's Day took off in England and people began to send trinkets, flowers and, the most popular, give cards to their loved ones. In 1913, Hallmark Cards in Kansas City began mass producing specific Valentine's Day cards for the day. Nowadays, about 1 billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year, making it the second largest seasonal card sending time of the year. And most of these cards include an x when signed. This is because in medieval times people who could not write their names signed in front of a witness with an X. The X was then kissed to show their sincerity.
So, we have professed our desire in a card but why do we buy chocolate? It is considered an aphrodisiac. Containing both sedative and stimulative qualities, chocolate relaxes and lowers inhibitions while increasing the desire for physical contact. In the late 1800’s, Richard Cadbury produced the first box of chocolates for this holiday and now over $1 billion worth of chocolate is purchased in the U.S. on this romantic day.
And why are flowers so important – especially roses?
The red rose was the favourite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
Red roses are considered the flower of love because the colour red stands for strong romantic feelings.
And did you know?
73 percent of people who buy flowers on this day are men, while only 27 percent are women.
15 percent of U.S. women send themselves flowers on Valentine's Day!
Food is also a symbol of love, so if you are cooking or dining out, why not include these romance inducing ingredients?
Artichokes - in the Middle Ages, women were forbidden to eat these due to the blossoming thistles' aphrodisiac qualities.
Asparagus - considered an aphrodisiac for hundreds of years. The Mayans and Aztecs, thought it enhanced sexual desirability. Aside from its suggestive shape, this veggie is incredibly nutritious. High in folate, French bridegrooms often ate several helpings of asparagus to fortify their manhood for their upcoming honeymoon.
Basil – its heady scent supposedly drives men wild. If you can believe it, women once dusted their ta-tas with dried or powdered versions of this herb! Basil has long been associated with stimulating sex drives and promoting fertility, as well as help as helping circulation and promoting heart health.
Carrots – due to their phallic shape, the Greek and Romans believed carrots to be a sexual stimulant.
Oysters – these slippery and sensual crustaceans are the ultimate aphrodisiac. Because they can change from male to female form freely, they are believed to understand both the feminine and masculine experience of love. · Strawberries – their heart shape are the symbol of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
Does everyone across the globe celebrate Valentine’s Day in the same way?
In Denmark, rather than roses, friends and sweethearts exchange pressed white snowdrops.
In the Philippines, mass weddings on this day have gained popularity; there are huge gatherings of couples at malls or other public areas to get married or renew their vows en masse.
It’s also customary for women in South Africa to pin the names of their love interest on their shirtsleeves.
In Verona, Italy, where Shakespeare's lovers Romeo and Juliet lived, about 1,000 letters addressed to Juliet are received.
This annual day of love is not all hearts and flowers and can leave many feeling lonely. But if you are single – don’t despair, you can celebrate Singles Awareness Day (SAD) held on the same date! Or head to Finland where Valentine’s Day is called Ystävänpäivä. This translates into “Friend’s day” and is a day to value your mates and not your loved one.
So, all in all Valentine’s Day is a day for everyone to celebrate those they love - their partner, wife, children, family and friends! So, whatever the history, traditions and rituals - Happy Valentine’s Day to you all!
This blog is contributed by Peta Delahunty. Originally from the UK, she has lived in Singapore for the past 9 years with her family. She is a self-confessed word nerd and when not writing and being a mum, loves exploring Singapore's fabulous food scene and enjoying its vibrant attractions.