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Traveler's Edition
  •   3 min read

Across the world, couples celebrate Valentine’s Day on February 14 by exchanging flowers, cards and little gifts. Many use it as an opportunity for a romantic getaway. But did you know who the day was named after? Or what it had to do with the heart symbol? If not, read on!

Valentine’s Day wasn’t always associated with romantic love. We bring you some of the most surprising facts of Valentine’s Day!

1) Valentine was a 3rd-century martyr…

…or at least that’s what historians think. Very little is known about St. Valentine of Terni‘s life, apart from his date of death: February 14, 269. It has even been claimed that the saint might be a conflation of two different people of the same name (Valentine was a popular given name at the time). According to legend, Valentine was condemned to death and executed by Roman Emperor Claudius Gothicus for proselytizing among Rome’s pagans.

Saint Valentine
Shrine of St. Valentine in Whitefriar Street Carmelite Church in Dublin, Ireland

2) St. Valentine’s Day wasn’t associated with romantic love until the 14th century

More specifically, until Geoffrey Chaucer’s love poetry, who first turned St. Valentine into a patron of spring – and thus the mating of birds and humans. (There is a number of inconclusive theories on why mid-February, which wasn’t any warmer in the Middle Ages than it is today, came to be considered as the beginning of spring.) Influenced by Chaucer, the theme of Valentine’s Day as a day of love spread rapidly among English and French medieval poets. In this period “Valentine” even came to be used synonymously with lover or sweetheart.

Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400)

3) Valentine cards became popular in the 19th century

The improvement of printing technology and decline in postage prices in the early 19th century led to an explosion in Valentine cards being mailed in England. Often these cards were intricate and included lace and ribbons. The practice spread to the US from the mid-19th century. Nowadays around a billion Valentine’s Day cards are exchanged each year, making it the second most important seasonal card-sending time after Christmas.

Valentine card 1876
Valentine card from 1876

4) Valentine’s Day popularized the heart symbol

While the symbol had been in use since the Middle Ages, its use skyrocketed as a result of the 19th-century Valentine’s Day cards, which depicted the heart symbol as a signifier of love.

Valentine card 1909
Valentine card from 1909

5) People travel more than ever before on Valentine’s Day

According to data collected by the accommodation website Airbnb, bookings for the Valentine’s Day week (February 11 to 17) increased by 86 percent from 2016 to 2017. Destinations in Mexico, South Africa, Japan, Iceland, France, Spain, Thailand and Portugal saw particularly steep growth. It remains to be seen if the trend will continue in 2018. In the meantime, have a look at our list of the world’s most romantic destinations for some inspiration!

Valentine's Day
Images: blackfishMetilsteinerChordboard / Wikimedia cc.

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