From Your Valentine!
El Día de los Enamorados

🕔 5 mins (total)
St Valentine’s day is a day for lovers the world over.
St Valentine’s day is a day for lovers the world over.

All around the world on 14 February cards, flowers, chocolates and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of a certain Saint Valentine. But just who was this guy and where did these traditions come from? Was he real, or is he just an invention of greeting card companies?

Saint Valentine, the man and the myth…

The Catholic Church recognizes three St. Valentines, all of whom were martyred – so we’re off to a great start there! One legend is that Valentine was a priest who served in 3rd-century Rome. Legend has it that Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than married ones and outlawed marriage for men of fighting age. Valentine defied the emperor and continued to marry young lovers in secret until he was eventually discovered and his execution ordered.

Another story goes that Valentine used to help Christians escape Roman jails until he was caught and imprisoned himself and, again, ordered to be put to death. (Not the most tolerant lot, those Romans!). Supposedly, on the eve of his execution, Valentine sent a letter to his love – his jailor’s daughter, according to some versions of the legend! – and signed it “From Your Valentine”, an expression still used today.

Not surprisingly, St Valentine became the patron saint of engaged couples and happy marriages – but also of beekeepers, travelling, epilepsy and the plague! (Who knew that epilepsy and the Black Death had patron saints?!)

… and his bits!

The alleged skull of St. Valentine is exhibited in the Basilica of Santa Maria in Cosmedin, Rome, Italy. Most of the rest of the remains of Saint Valentine can be visited today in Whitefriar St. Church in Dublin, Ireland. They were gifted to an Irish Carmelite priest in the 16th century by Pope Gregory in a sealed casket, accompanied by a letter of certification from the pope, which is still held by the Carmelites.

The letter says the casket contains the remains of Saint Valentine, which were removed especially from a cemetery in Rome, along with a vessel doused in the saint’s blood. The inner box with these items has never been opened. (In Ireland, they generally prefer to bury the bodies of their saints in one piece!)

More of St Valentine’s relics are on display in the Church of St Antón Church in Madrid, and yet others are supposedly today in Prague, Chelmno (Poland), Lesbos (Greece), Savona (Italy), Gard (France), Balzan (Malta) and Glasgow & Birmingham (UK).  (Who knew saints had that many bones?!!)

The Origins of St Valentine’s Day

Given that so little is really known for sure about the dates of Valentine’s death, the most probable reason we celebrate St Valentine’s Day in February is due to the early Christian church’s effort to Christianize the ancient Roman pagan fertility festival of Lupercalia, which took place in that month.

To mark the occasion, Roman men sacrificed goats before using their bloody skins to gently “whip” both women and crops in the belief that this would make them fertile. During the festival, the names of all the young women would be placed in an urn to be picked out randomly by the town’s bachelors (the origins of today’s swingers??), and the happy couple would be paired together for a year. Sometimes, these couples would end up staying together for good and getting married.

It wasn’t until the 5th century that 14 February was officially designated St Valentine’s Day by the church, and much later again before it really became associated with all that love-birds stuff. In France and England during the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed that 14 February was the start of the mating season for birds – a natural day for romance!

St Valentine’s Day nowadays

Originally, Valentine cards were handmade and slipped under doors or tied to doorknobs. With industrialization and advances in printing and manufacturing, the practice became more popular as mass-produced cards were inexpensive and easily available. The practice of mailing Valentine cards began after the introduction of the “penny black” stamp in Britain, making it easier for an admirer to anonymously send more daring verses in the notoriously prudish Victorian era. This custom spread to the U.S.A. and the rest of the English-speaking world in the 19th century and later, to a lesser extent, to the rest of the world.

In Latin America, the day is known as “El Día de Los Enamorados” (lovers’ day) – but not in Brazil as it too often clashes with Carnaval (good to see they have their priorities straight there!), and for this reason, the country has become a popular tourist spot in February for Western singles who want to escape the holiday! (Absolutely nothing to do with Carnaval of course!)


Valentine’s Day on the Costa Brava

In Spain, as in many Western countries, the custom for many is to send cards, flowers and chocolates to their special loved one, or perhaps to go for a nice meal in a fancy restaurant. Here on this stretch of the Costa Brava (in El Baix Empordà), there are plenty of lovely eateries with varying price ranges and types of cuisine to choose from.

You won’t find too many restaurants in this part of the world putting on special menus in honour of St. Valentine’s Day, but if you’d like some assistance organizing your romantic day out, just give callCarlos a shout. They’re based in Calonge, but they are the local experts pretty much anywhere in the Baix Empordà area on La Costa Brava.

Some guys who really missed the point of St Valentine’s Day!

The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre is the name given to the 14 February 1929 murder in Chicago of seven men of the Irish-American “North Side Gang” during the Prohibition era by their bitter rivals, the Italian-American “South Side Gang” led by Al Capone in a war to take control of organized crime in the city. There was no love lost between those guys!

That’s what happens when governments try to prohibit booze. Not a good idea at all!


If your sweetheart happens to be a Catalan, be aware that, while in many other parts of the world Saint Valentine’s Day is the day for lovers, in Catalunya, that day for most local people is St Jordi’s Day on 23 April – and at least here the blokes get something out of it too! The custom in this part of the world is that lovers and sweethearts exchange red roses and books on that day – that is, guys give girls a red rose, while the girls give the guys a book. So when 14 February is over, get ready to do it all again in April if you live in Catalunya!

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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