Celebrating Valentine’s Day or Saint-Valentin in France


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Celebrating Valentine’s Day or Saint-Valentin in France

Renowned for romance, joie de vivre, and love, it is intriguing to know just how the French celebrate Saint Valentine’s Day, n’est pas?

What is the history of Saint Valentin?

Third-century Rome had been warring for years, and men were deserting the army. Young men were not choosing a military career. Emperor Claude II decided to solve the problem by outlawing marriage to eliminate ‘distractions’. A priest called Valentine decided to ignore the edict and continue with marriage services. Inevitably, he was jailed, and he then became friends with the blind daughter of one of his guards.

On February 14th, 270AD, Valentine was sentenced to death. It is said that his dying wish was the gift of sight he gave to the blind girl, along with a heart-shaped letter.

For his acts of bravery and self-sacrifice, Valentine was declared a saint by Pope Gelase I in order to ensure Valentine’s Day became a Christian tradition that subsumed the Pagan festival of fertility at this time.

Lotterie d’Amour

Valentine’s Day used to be a matchmaking day in France where men and women would shout at each other from across the street to couple up. If men were not happy with their match, they could choose again. The snubbed women would traditionally gather around a bonfire to burn pictures or effigies of the men who had dumped them. The government eventually banned this custom as it led to all kinds of social problems and often spiralled out of control, especially in the cities!

Les Amoureux

In France, Valentine’s Day is all about those who are ‘in love’ as opposed to loving gestures. Children are unlikely to exchange cards, and gifts would not really be offered to friends to celebrate this Day in the way that they might be in the US or the UK.

Also, we do not send cards for every occasion – a single red rose on the pillow or a bouquet at the office, but not a card.

Valentine’s Gifts in France

All the shops in villages, towns and cities will be adorned with pink and red from the beginning of February– especially florists, jewellers, perfumeries, health spas, lingerie boutiques and bakeries. Exquisite gateaux and chocolates are made especially for the occasion.

Dining out on Valentine’s Day in France

As with all celebrations, the French celebrate with food. Virtually all restaurants offer a special Valentine’s Menu for those romantic evenings “en couple”. Menus will be that extra bit special with Champagne, seafood and, of course, chocolate – the food of love! Don’t forget to book a table, as this is one night when popular spots are almost guaranteed to be full!

Whatever you do and however you choose to celebrate this Valentine’s Day, remember to share it with those you love 🙂



Local Life in France

From shopping at the supermarket to sending a parcel at Post Office, finding your local dechetterie to who to call in an emergency—FrenchEntrée is here to help with every aspect of day-to-day living in France. Read our Essential Reading guides for advice on living in France, visit our Shopping zone or Pets zone, or brush up your language skills with our handy learning French resources.

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Carol, a teacher from Hurworth in Darlington, lives in Charente in South-West France, where she runs La Grue Gites with her family.

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