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February 2014

The truth behind St. Valentine’s Day

It’s not difficult getting lost in the pink plush bears and Cupid’s arrows that drown out Valentine’s Day today. In the age of greeting cards and gifts, one feels compelled to ponder what inspired the holiday in the first place. Was it always about romantic love? Did we always eat those chalky candy hearts? Today we take a look at the history of Valentine’s Day along with different ways to express your affection in various languages across the world.

Ti amo. (Italian)
Te amo. (Spanish)
S’agapó. (Greek)

According to legend, Valentine’s Day celebrates Saint Valentine, a Christian martyred in the 3rd century A.D. in Rome for aiding persecuted Christians. Roman Emperor Claudius II interrogated Valentine in person, found him an interesting man and subsequently attempted to convert him to Roman paganism. Valentine refused and, in turn, attempted to convert Claudius to Christianity, an act that did not go over well. Valentine was sentenced to death. Before his execution, however, he cured his jailer’s daughter of blindness, inspiring the jailer and his household to convert to Christianity. An additional legend states that Valentine wrote a letter to the jailer’s daughter, Julia, signing as “Your Valentine”. This was to mark the first ever “Valentine card”.

Wǒ ài nǐ. (Mandarin)
Suki desu. (Japanese)
Sarang hae. (Korean)

In reality, there are many Christian martyrs by the name of “Valentine”, and the February 14 celebration is said to celebrate not only the St. Valentine of Rome, but also the St. Valentine of Terni. Less is known about this Valentine except he was martyred under Emperor Aurelian. He is also buried in Rome, though at a different location along the same street, Via Flaminia. To this day, the Umbrian city of Terni celebrates the Feast of St. Valentine outside the Basilica di San Valentino.

Ja teb'a l'ubl'u. (Russian)
Kocham Cię. (Polish)
Bi chamd khairtai. (Mongolian)

As for the inclusion of romantic love in Valentine’s Day, we can thank 14th-century English writer Geoffrey Chaucer, a man regarded as the Father of English literature and the greatest English poet of the Middle Ages. His “Parlement of Foules”, a romantic poem, is the first reference of Valentine’s Day as a special day for lovers. This came almost 10 centuries after the lives and exploits of both our aforementioned Valentines.

Aloha Au Ia ʻOe. (Hawaiian)
Iniibig kita. (Tagalog)
Aku cinta kamu. (Indonesian)

It’s clear now that Valentine’s Day is a holiday that has evolved over time. But whether you’re a believer in Chaucer’s poetry or you prefer to err on the side of the Christians who rebelled against their emperors, Valentine’s Day is nonetheless a holiday inspired by great passion.

Ich liebe dich. (German)
Ik hou van je. (Dutch)
I love you. (English)

How will you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Let us know on our Facebook Page and be sure to “like” TELC English to stay updated on more fun cultural facts from around the world!