The Babbel Blog

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Valentine’s Day Tales from Europe

Posted on February 13, 2015 by

Valentine’s Day: the day of love. Every day should be a day of love, but having one day dedicated to it makes it more special, with millions of people around the world declaring their love for each other. Despite the assumption that it’s actually a holiday made up by florists and chocolatiers to sell more flowers (Did you know that it’s the one day of the year when men buy more flowers than women?), Valentine’s Day traditions actually extend back hundred of years, originating with the Feast of Saint Valentine, the patron saint of happy marriage and love. Here are some interesting Valentine’s Day tales from countries around Europe…

This tale comes from one of the most romantic countries in the world, Italy. On February 15th, Romans used to pay tribute to the gods, asking them to protect their harvest and cattle, and also wishing for prosperity and fertility. On the evening before, which is now Valentine’s Day, men and women used to put their names into a jar, and a child would match a couple together. They then would celebrate by dancing and singing during the feast, and would live one year together in intimacy. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius I canceled this pagan rite, replacing it with a day commemorating Saint Valentine.
During the 1700s in merry ol’ England, one very popular custom on the eve of Valentine’s Day was for women to pin five bay leaves sprinkled with rose water to their pillows. One was pinned to the center and one to each corner. Before going to sleep, the women would recite the following little prayer: “Good Valentine, be kind to me; In dreams, let my true love see.” If this charm worked, then the woman would see her future husband in her dreams. Puts a spin on the ol’ saying ‘sweet dreams’, doesn’t it?
A very unusual (and slightly cruel) Valentine’s Day tradition in France was called ‘Loterie d’amour’ or ‘Drawing for Love’. Single men and women would crowd into opposite-facing houses and take turns calling out to one another through the windows until everyone was paired up. Men who weren’t satisfied with their chosen partner could simply leave the woman for another. After the pairing was finished, women who had been left single built a large bonfire and burned images of the men who had spurned them. This practice got so out of control that the French government was forced to ban the custom.
Valentine’s Day in Germany is getting more and more popular, however it is not as commercial as it is in other parts of the world. It was actually U.S. soldiers who brought Valentine’s Day to Germany after the Second World War. Was there a nicer way to charm a German Fräulein? The first Valentine’s Ball was held in 1950, and from then on lovers have exchanged flowers, chocolate or heart shaped gifts on the 14th of February. You think flowers and chocolate are uninspired? Then why not be creative and present a pig (not a real one of course) to your Valentine? Pigs symbolize good luck in Germany, although such a romantic gesture could easily be lost in translation – the look on your darling’s face after receiving a chocolate pig might not be what you expect.
Many Poles make a romantic pilgrimage to a small town about 30 miles northwest of Lódz along the Vistula River called Chelmno, also dubbed the ‘City of Lovers’. Why? A small parish church here has recently begun to display a relic claimed to be from Saint Valentine. The relic, a small skull fragment, is housed in a silver shrine which dates back to 1630. Whether this is true or not, it hasn’t stopped people from traveling to Chelmno to declare their love for each other. And at the end of the day that’s all that matters, isn’t it?