Valentine's Day

Valentines Day

St Valentine’s Day – History, Traditions and Activities

St Valentine’s Day is one of the most widely celebrated of the Saints days, with an emphasis on love and romance. But who was St Valentine and why do we have so many Valentine’s Day traditions? Read on to find out. We’ve also added some quick and easy Valentine’s Day classroom activities for you and your pupils. Why not let us know how you’re celebrating Valentine’s Day in your classroom in the comments section below?

Who Was St Valentine?

St Valentine was a Third Century priest who lived in Rome and is commemorated on the 14th February. Since the middle ages, he has been associated with love and romance. There were actually three St Valentines, all with links to the 14th February. The stories of the three have become intertwined over the centuries. The 14th February has been celebrated as the Feast of St Valentine since 496 AD. The early stories of St Valentine state that he was a priest in Rome who ministered to Christians, who were being persecuted during this period by Emperor Claudius II. Helping Christians in any way was a crime.

The first romantic reference to St Valentine was from the Nuremberg Chronicle (1493) which stated that Valentine was imprisoned for helping Christian couples to marry, meaning that the husbands wouldn’t have to go to war. This was a big inconvenience to Claudius II as soldiers were scarce at this time. To remind the men of their vows, and of God’s love, St Valentine is said to have given them hearts cut out of parchment. These were given to soldiers and persecuted Christians, and may be the origin of the use of hearts on St Valentine’s Day.

Another story of St Valentine, tells us that he restored the sight of his judge’s daughter whilst imprisoned. The judge was so impressed that he and his family converted to Christianity and he commended Valentine to Claudius II. Although, Valentine and Claudius initially got on well, their relationship soured and Claudius eventually sentenced Valentine to death on 14th February. Just before he died, St Valentine supposedly wrote a letter to the girl whose blindness he had healed, signing it ‘from your Valentine’; another possible origin of today’s Valentine’s Day traditions.

Valentine’s Day Traditions

Valentine’s Day is a cultural and religious (and of course commercial), celebration of romance and romantic love in many regions across the world. The day first became associated with romantic love in the Fourteenth Century when the tradition of courtly love flourished.

During the Fifteenth, Sixteenth and early Seventeenth Centuries, poetry about Valentine’s Day flourished, with poems being written by some of our most famous historical writers, including John Donne, and William Shakespeare in a speech by Ophelia in Hamlet.

In the Eighteenth Century, Valentine’s Day evolved to become a day when lovers expressed their feelings for one another by giving flowers, confectionery and greeting cards, or ‘Valentine’s’. Symbols that are still used to this day include hearts, doves and cupid. In 1835, 60,000 Valentine’s cards were posted. By 1841 this had increased to 400,000, due to postal reforms which made it much cheaper to send a token of affection.

In Europe, St Valentine’s Keys are given to lovers as a romantic symbol and as an invitation to unlock the giver’s heart. Here in the UK, just under half of us spend money on Valentine’s Day, with £1.9 billion spent in 2015 alone.

Classroom Activities

Romantic Poets

One of the most famous (and clichéd) Valentine’s poems can be found in a collection of English nursery rhymes called Gammer Gurton’s Garland from 1784:

“The Rose is red, the violet’s blue,
The honey’s sweet, and so are you.
Thou art my love and I am thine;
I drew thee to my Valentine:
The lot was cast and then I drew,
And fortune said it shou’d be you.”

Ask you pupils to choose a person (or pet if they wish), and get them to write a simple six-line poem to them with the same rhyme scheme as above (AABBAA). The poems don’t have to be romantic, just to someone that they love. For example, a parent, sibling or friend.

Kindness Tree

Place squares of folded card with individual pupil names written on them into a jar. The jar should be big enough to easily fit a hand through the neck. Then, in turn, your pupils should each pick out the name of a classmate from the jar. On the reverse of the card, ask them to write three things they like about the other pupil. This could be as simple as ‘I like her glasses’, or something a bit more meaningful like ‘he always helps me if I’m stuck with my work’.

The cards should then be given to the pupil whose name is on it, who can read their positive comments. Then, using a clothes peg, attach it to a cut-out tree. Your tree will make a lovely classroom display.

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