7 Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Valentine’s Day In France

In the city of love, Valentine’s Day is actually exclusively for lovers.
Valentine's Day in France represented by two people clinking glasses of red wine in a wine bar.

Although Valentine’s Day is, for the most part, a global holiday with certain localized traditions, Valentine’s Day in Minnesota doesn’t look all that different from Valentine’s Day in France — on the surface, at least. You’ll see florists selling red roses, couples out on fancy restaurant dates and storefronts decorated in hearts and cupids. What’s not to love?

Apparently, any sort of platonic demonstration between friends. Sorry, but Valentine’s Day in France is just for couples! While it appears as though France is gatekeeping candy hearts and romance from the less fortunate singletons (and who knows, it might be), it’s also equally true that the democratization of candy grams is a sort of American invention.

Here are some other things you may or may not know about Valentine’s Day in France.

Some Facts About Valentine’s Day In France

1. Valentine’s Day started in France — kind of.

Valentine’s Day wasn’t originally associated with romance — it was either a feast day of St. Valentine or a replacement for the pagan fertility holiday of Lupercalia. But its modern origins as a courtship holiday did, in fact, begin in France and England during the 18th and 19th centuries. During this time, it became customary to send cards to loved ones on Valentine’s Day. Hallmark then took this concept and ran with it in the 1910s and beyond. So in some sense, you can think of France as one of the birthplaces of Valentine’s Day.

2. France also invented the heart shape as a symbol of romantic love, as far as we know.

The earliest documented association between the heart shape and romantic love comes from a 13th century French manuscript titled Roman de la poire, in which an illustration depicts a man holding up his heart to a woman.

3. The word “romance” comes from Old French.

To be fair, “romance” didn’t always refer to love, but once again, we can kind of thank the French for this. The English romance (originally romaunce in the 14th century) derives from the Old French romanz, and this word originally referred to a genre of story involving knights. If you trace its origins all the way back to Vulgar Latin, you get Romanicus, meaning “Roman” (there’s a rhyme and a reason to this, trust us).

4. The early days of Valentine’s Day in France were kind of violent.

Before V-Day became an excuse for date night, France would hold a loterie d’amour, or a matchmaking lottery, on Valentine’s Day. Men and women would shout to each other from houses across the street and then pair off. However, men who weren’t happy with their match had the option of ditching their date for someone else. The scorned women would then get together around a bonfire to unleash their anger and burn pictures of the men who snubbed them. Eventually, the French government had to ban the event after it spiraled out of hand.

5. In France, la Saint-Valentin is reserved for couples.

If you grew up with fond memories of stuffing lollipops into cards for all of your classmates, don’t assume your French friends did. In France, the only people celebrating Valentine’s Day (or even necessarily wishing each other a happy Valentine’s Day) are couples. Children don’t give cards to their friends, and single women don’t buy roses for each other in observation of Galentine’s Day (unless they wish to declare that their friendship is not actually platonic).

6. The French seem to celebrate Valentine’s Day more than some of their European counterparts.

According to a 2013 survey, roughly half (one in two) of all married French people observe Valentine’s Day, compared to one in five Belgians. Within that statistic, younger couples are definitely carrying this institution more than their older counterparts, with 60 percent of lovers under 35 making it a point to celebrate on February 14.

7. The French aren’t huge on greeting cards.

This is true for most occasions, not just on Valentine’s Day. Instead, it’s more common to plan a romantic date, share a special dinner, and give flowers, jewelry, perfume or other gifts. Often, restaurants will create a special menu for February 14, and some museums, parks and bars will host special events. In Paris, it’s not unusual to see a Valentine’s Day show at a cabaret.

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