The celebration of St Valentine’s Day on 14th February originates in a mixture of ancient fertility rites, pagan myths and Christian traditions. There were various saints with the name Valentine and there are many stories which explain how their lives became associated with love and romance. The first known reference to St Valentine and love can be found in the Medieval poem Parliament of Fouls, by British poet, Geoffrey Chaucer, written around 1380. It was set in a time when courtly love was fashionable and it started the romantic tradition of celebrating love on that day.

In England St Valentine’s day became a popular festival in the 19th century when it was possible to buy and send printed cards. These were often very beautiful objects made with silk and lace; very different to the mass produced cards we find in the shops today. It was fashionable to send cards anonymously and sign “From your secret Valentine.” Nowadays we still celebrate St Valentine’s day even though the festival has become very commercial. In the UK, people spend about £1.3 billion on cards and gifts while the biggest spenders are in Singapore with many people spending between $100 and $500 on celebrations.

 

Illustration by Alida Massari, taken from Tristan and Isolde, Reading and Training, Step 1 (A2)