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Why do we celebrate St Valentine's Day?

This widespread celebration is held each year on 14th February and is a day during which people express their love and admiration for one another. The history of Valentine's Day shows that the festival appears to have been created from a range of legends and customs which have developed through centuries. Though traditionally associated with romantic love, many people also give Valentines Day cards and gifts to family members and friends. In Australia, millions of Valentine's Day cards are sent each year and popular gifts are flowers and chocolates.

Valentine's Day History - Christian Saints and Legends

Have you ever wondered how Valentine's Day began? The tradition of celebrating Valentine's Day has come about through legends and tales relating to the death of early Christian saints, together with Greek and Roman mythology.

There are several stories associated with the history of Valentine's Day. At least three Christian martyrs were named Valentine and are believed to have been executed for various reasons, including marrying Roman soldiers in secret. Emperor Claudius II prevented soldiers from marrying because he thought they should only love Rome. Valentine's Day is thought to have originated with a particular Christian bishop who performed secret marriage ceremonies in defiance of the Emperor's law.

Valentine was eventually imprisoned and legend has it that before his execution on 14 February, he left a farewell love message for the jailor's daughter signed ‘from your Valentine'. This phrase is still in use today as the traditional Valentine's Day message to a lover.

Mythology, Symbolism and Valentine's Day

Greek and Roman mythology also feature in the history of Valentine's Day. The Roman boy god Cupid was the son of Venus, the goddess of love, and Cupid is often associated with Valentine's Day as the mischievous young boy who goes around sending arrows into his victims, making them fall in love.

Cupid's Greek equivalent is Eros, the god of love, who is usually shown as an adult male embodying sexual power. The Middle Ages saw the further development of the concept of ‘love's arrows' and this idea was featured in poetry and Valentine's Day traditions, eventually becoming part of the European custom of courtly love.

History of Valentine's Day - Middle Ages

The legends about St Valentine present a heroic and romantic figure popularised during the Middle Ages in England and France. Some historians assert that the first person to associate St Valentine with romantic love was the poet Chaucer. In 1381 the English King Richard II and Anne of Bohemia were betrothed and Chaucer composed a poem in honour of the engagement. In 1400 a High Court of Love was established in Paris on Valentine's Day. The court's purpose was to review love contracts and treacheries and judges were chosen by women based on their poetry reading abilities.

The Victorian Era and Valentine's Day History

By the mid-1800s it had become common in England to send handmade Valentine's Day cards to loved ones. Traditionally decorated with hearts and cupids, these specially created cards were made of colourful pictures, lace and ribbon and featured flowery love messages to the recipient. The creation of printing technology meant that eventually most handmade cards were replaced with printed ones and led to an increase in the popularity of sending love messages.

Valentine's Day in Literature

References to Valentine's Day can be found in much English literature. Many of the romantic poets refer to St Valentine in their prose and Ophelia bemoans Valentine's Day in Shakespeare's Hamlet. The traditional English nursery rhyme ‘Roses are Red' references Valentine's, although it isn't included in the modern version of this poem.

Contemporary Valentine's Day Celebrations

Today the traditions of Valentine's Day are observed all over the world. Celebrating Valentine's Day is a popular Australian custom and 14 February is a major commercial event on the calendar. Cards and gifts such as flowers, chocolates or jewellery convey love messages and many choose to share a romantic Valentine's activity to celebrate their love. Valentine's Day cards and gifts are frequently sent anonymously, allowing people to express their devotion from afar. The recipient must try and guess the name of the sender and sometimes may never discover their identity. While sending paper cards is still popular, more and more people are choosing to convey their affection via SMS or email, and there are many websites that provide personalised electronic cards. Long associated with lovers, Valentine's Day is also a favourite day for marriage proposals and weddings. Many choose to follow a traditional Valentine's theme with an old fashioned look, romantic location and incorporation of poetry and music reflective of their personal story.

Symbols of St Valentine's Day

Whatever the Valentine's Day celebration planned, featuring well known symbols helps to create a romantic atmosphere. The red rose is a traditional symbol of love and passion and has appeared in paintings, poetry and songs for hundreds of years. Sending a single red rose on Valentine's Day is usually understood to mean ‘I love you'. Heart shapes are featured on wrapping paper and gift boxes and are often used for special cookies or cakes. Red and pink flowers with love messages are a popular Valentine's Day gift and red roses are usually considered the most romantic. Roses Only has a great range of romantic gift ideas to suit all budgets, from arrangements of flowers to delight the heart, to romantic Valentine's Day hampers and gift boxes. Tell your loved one how much you care with a Roses Only romantic gift.

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