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French Valentine's Day Traditions

Jennifer L. Betts
Contributor: Rachel Hanson
Romantic couple kissing near the Eiffel Tower in Paris

To some it will be no surprise that a country regarded as one of the most romantic in the world (France) should have invented Valentine's Day. On the other hand, the history of the holiday is not clear enough to say with certainty that the holiday originated in France. Learn the history of Valentine's Day in France, and how it is celebrated today.

History of French Valentine's Day

There are two reasons why many people link Valentine's Day with France. One is that it was commonly known, in both England and France, that birds and other animals paired off and mated in the middle of February. Coincidence? Most likely not, since February 14 is exactly the middle of February. It is thought that people began celebrating this as the special day for lovers because of this association with love in nature.

First Valentine's Day Cards

In addition, a Frenchman, the Duke of Orléans, is thought to have written the first love letters that later became Valentine's Day cards. The Duke of Orléans, Charles, was captured in 1415 and taken as a prisoner to London; while imprisoned in the Tower, he is thought to have written love letters to his wife back in France. These are thought to be what became cartes d'amitiés, now known as French Valentine's Day cards.

Banned French Tradition

While it is currently banned, a unique tradition to the French was the une loterie d'amour or drawing for love. This tradition included singles pairing off in houses that faced opposite each other. While this might seem romantic, it wasn't if you didn't care for your partner. In that case the men would leave, and the jilted women would build a large bonfire, cursing the men.

How Do the French Celebrate Valentine's Day?

For the French, Valentine's Day is truly a couple's holiday. While teens might get involved, Valentine's Day is a way for couples to show their love and devotion. A friendly Valentine from your son or kids giving out Valentine's in school just doesn't exist. Actually, sending out a friendly Valentine might just give someone the wrong idea. However, when it comes to the celebration chocolates, romantic dinners and small gifts are all the rage for couples. Those in love may also give each other a card but it is much less prominent.

St-Valentin, France

In France, in the department of Indre (Central France), there is a village called Saint-Valentin. Although nobody really knows anymore who St. Valentine was historically, there's no doubt that the village of St-Valentin has capitalized on its name and marketed itself as le village des amoureux! Of course, with a name like that, one can't help but make the association.

Saint-Valentin Celebration

Each year in the Village of Saint-Valentin, there's a celebration on the weekend closest to Valentine's Day. Not only do the locals grasp the chance to celebrate the patron saint of their city, but travelers arrive from all over France for a romantic weekend or even to renew their wedding vows in what they deem to be an appropriate location. Indeed, mid-February is an ideal time of the year to get away and celebrate love, and this town in France has built a booming tourist business based on their name.

Create a Valentines Day à la française

Looking for a new way to celebrate Valentine's Day? Create a French theme for your special day and surprise your loved one with a French evening.

  • Use the opportunity to try out a delicious French dessert, and serve French bread and cheese between the dinner and your delectable dessert.
  • Have some romantic French music playing in the background all evening.
  • Don't forget to set the Valentine's Day table in a French way, which is to say that the table should look like art: complete with a tablecloth, cloth napkins, a tasteful centerpiece, and an array of cutlery and glasses suitable for each course you will serve.
  • Give a small present to your loved one, such as flowers or chocolate, and offer a card with a romantic line or phrase about love, written in French.

Your valentine will never forget the year you made the most romantic day of the year even more romantic!

Celebrating Love in French

Paris, France is known as the city of love, so it should come as no surprise that the French know how to celebrate Valentine's Day. Now grab your favorite gal or guy and give a few of these French traditions a try.

French Valentine's Day Traditions