Window on UK Culture
Valentines Day


We all know that St Valentine's Day is the day that people celebrate with their loved ones by going out for a romantic meal and buying chocolates and flowers but does anyone one know where this tradition comes from?

When is St Valentine's Day?

St Valentine's Day is observed each year on February 14.

Who was St Valentine?


There are various stories of exactly who Valentine was. The most popular one was that he was a priest that used to perform marriage ceremonies for soldiers. Because it was, supposedly, illegal for soldiers to marry at that time, Valentine was thrown into prison and later executed. It was said that he performed a miracle by healing the jailor's blind daughter and before he was taken away to be executed he left her a farewell note signed “From your Valentine”.

In truth very little is known about who he actually was as there were several Christian martyrs named Valentine and the above mentioned story didn’t appear until the 8th century.

What has this story got to do with Lovers?


St Valentine's Day wasn't associated with love until Jeffrey Chaucer mentioned it in a poem in 1382, around a thousand years or so after the Valentine martyrs are said to have lived.

“For this was on Valentine's Day when every bird cometh to choose his mate”

Whether this was the start of Valentine's day or it had already been celebrated for years before Chaucer wrote the above words, no one will ever know, unless some text pre-dating that of Chaucer are discovered.

What is known though is that after Chaucer's poem, letters with the words "To my Valentine" or "From your Valentine" began to appear.

Shakespeare mentioned it in his play Hamlet in 1601 so by that time it was certainly entrenched in English culture.

Why give red roses on Valentine's Day?


Roses have been symbolic of love since ancient Roman and Greek times but giving red roses became popular when the language of flowers (Floriography) was created in the 19th century by the Victorians. They gave flowers, numbers of flowers and even different colours of flowers within a species different meaning.

This poem from 1784 and another entitled Faerie Queen from 1590 is possibly why the Victorians associated red roses specifically with love.

The rose is red, the violet's blue,
The honey's sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And Fortune said it shou'd be you.