Just how and when the tradition for sending Valentine's cards and gifts to loved ones is unclear, all we do know is that the custom stems back for thousands of years.
Many people believe that the origin of the custom began with a Roman priest, St Valentine, who on or close to the 14th February 270CE was martyred. Just why he became know as the patron saint of lovers isn't clear and there have been many different interpretations throughout the centuries.
One of theories is that the church used the death of St Valentine in an effort to Christianise the old Roman festival of Lupercalia which was always held around the middle part of February. The festival of Lupercalia was linked to fertility, girl's names were placed into a box and the boy's selected a unknown or anonymous name from the box the two were then coupled or paired together for a year.
Another story or myth involves an early Christian saint called Valentinus. He is believed to have carried out marriage ceremonies for soldiers and the persecuted who were forbidden to marry by the Holy Roam Empire. While in prison he is said to have healed the jailer Asterius' daughter, and in order to remain anonymous he wrote her a message before his execution signed ''from your Valentine'' as a way of saying goodbye to her.
Over the centuries celebrating St Valentine's Day has remained a popular way to send an anonymous card or message to a lover or someone you admire in the hope to gain their affection and love. The trend in sending Valentine's cards and gifts continues to gain in popularity with many various gifts, such as flowers, chocolates, red satin or velvet heart shaped cushions, and tokens of affection are being sent not only to lovers but also spouses, children, close family members and friends; with teachers being the top of the list for receiving the most Valentine's cards.
St Valentine's Day is celebrated in many countries across the world, although not always on the 14th February:
- USA - In the USA Valentine's Day has become a day which is celebrated in much the same way as the UK and it's believed that the tradition was taken to the US via British settlers in the 19th century. Like the UK gifts of flowers, predominately roses and chocolates are given to loved ones, including children, family members and friends. Lovers also part-take in celebrating Valentine's Day by giving more elaborate and expensive presents typically such as diamond and other types of jewellery.
- Canada - The Canadian celebrate with Valentine's Day balls and dances. Children are encouraged to join the celebration at school and take part in plays and concerts.
- Australia - The popularity of celebrating St. Valentine's Day continues to grow in popularity in Australia. Many families use the day for family gatherings to help strengthen family bonds. The history of celebrating Valentine's Day dates back to the gold miners who were believed to have sent lavish gifts of perfumed satin cushions decorated with coloured shells and flowers. It is also believed that they sent humming birds and birds of paradise which had been to the taxidermist first!
- Japan - There are two different days celebrated in Japan. The first is on 14th February when females present gifts to any man or men they choose. On March 14th, White Day, the men who received the gifts on the 14th February pamper and spoil the girls and women who gave them.
- France - France celebrates Valentine's Day in much the same way as the UK and send gifts to lovers and spouses. In the past the French followed a custom called 'drawing for' where any unmarried people, young and old, would go into a house facing another. They would then call across the street in the hopes to be paired off with a partner. If a man didn't respond to the women's call and refused to 'pair off' the women would light bonfires to burn effigies of the ungrateful men, while burning the images the women also hurled abuse. The French government banned this Valentine's Day practice due to the sometimes malicious nastiness that ensured.
- Italy - The land of lovers, the Italians originally celebrated a Spring Festival, where younger people gathered in ornamental public gardens or arbours and recite poetry and listen to music. Later that day they strolled off with their Valentine. This custom is no longer practised. Today, Valentine's Day is solely for lovers, family and friends aren't given cards or gifts.
- India - Although a relatively new tradition, the Indian people have quite literally taken the celebration of Valentine's Day to their hearts. They not only exchange gifts between lovers, family members and friends are also included. Many young couple choose 14th February to be married.
- Denmark - Young people in Denmark take Valentine's Day very seriously, taking care to follow the tree traditions ways. The first is the exchange of cards; the second is to send white flowers, usually snowdrops and lastly the man writes anonymous love poems, the girl that receives them has try and guess who sent them, if she guesses correctly she is given an Easter Egg that year.