Valentine's Day: from Pagan spanking to romantic ornithology

Feb 14, 2014

The Valentine's Day holiday of love so is much more than petrol station flowers and silent meals for two

FOR some, Valentine’s Day means an inconvenient rush for flowers and last-minute dinner reservations - for others, it’s the most romantic time of the year.

Love it or hate it, 14 February is here. So brush up on the history and customs of Valentine's Day, and see if inspiration strikes.

History of Valentine’s Day

Like Halloween, the origins of Valentine's Day are rooted in Paganism, specifically in a Pagan fertility festival known as Lupercalia, says National Geographic. The festival - which was "wildly popular" until the fifth century AD - was celebrated annually on 15 February. It was customary for men to use whips fashioned from the skins of a goat or dog to spank young maidens in order to increase fertility - "an early form IVF if you will," remarks Tom Chivers in the Daily Telegraph.

The festival was so popular that the young Christian Church was unable to stop Pagans taking part, and so it eventually began to label it a Christian celebration, linking it to the legend of St Valentine.

St Valentine was executed by the Roman Emperor Claudius II after he was caught performing secret marriage ceremonies, which were at the time prohibited by the emperor in an attempt to strengthen his army.

The story goes that Valentine sent a final love note to his jailer’s daughter signed, "From your Valentine", and thus Valentine’s Day was born.

Around the world

Japan: Japanese chocolate companies make half their annual sales in the week leading up to Valentine’s Day, although it’s not men shelling out their hard-earned cash. In Japan it’s traditional for women to do the spoiling. It’s not all rosy for the boys though – they are expected to return the favour on White Day, which falls on 14 March.

South Korea: In Korea they take it a step further. As well as celebrating Valentine’s Day and White Day, they also mark Black Day (14 April), on which people not in relationships meet in restaurants to eat black noodles and mourn/celebrate being single.

Finland and Estonia: Here Valentine’s Day is as much a celebration of friendship as it is romantic love and in both languages the name given to 14 February translates as Friend’s Day.

Wales: In Wales most people celebrate Dydd Santes Dwynwen on 25 January, a day which commemorates St Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers.


Valentine's Day is an expensive occasion according to Barclay’s Bank, particularly for men. It’s predicted that this year Brits will be shelling out a whopping £370m on loved ones (pets included) via debit card transactions - a £70m increase from 2013. Meanwhile, evidence suggests that ever more penny-wise Brits will go out for dinner either before or after 14 February in an attempt to avoid overpriced cuisine.


Condom company Durex reports that sales of condoms are always between 20 and 30 per cent higher than usual around Valentine’s Day. Co-incidentally, sales of home pregnancy test kits’ are also substantially higher in March than at any other point during the year.

Love birds

According to the Ancient Greek and Roman practice of ornithomancy (and the Daily Telegraph), it is said that the first bird an unmarried woman spots on Valentine’s Day will tell her all she needs to know about the occupation and financial position of her true love.

Here’s the list of birds to look for and those to avoid:

Blackbird: he'll be involved in charitable or spiritual work – an aid worker of vicar

Dove: your marriage to him will be happy and loving

Robin: he earns his living through water – a naval officer or fisherman

Sparrow: he works with the land – a farmer or tree surgeon

Blue bird: he likes to make others smile – a comedian

Woodpecker: no marriage will take place

Duck: your relationship with him will be homely and stable

Gull: he travels a great deal for work

Birds of prey: he is a businessman, politician or leader

Goldfinch: he is a person of means

Kingfisher: he has already done well or inherited money

Pigeon: he will eventually return to the place where he grew up

Did you know?

Different meanings are ascribed to roses according to their colour. Here are our favourites:

Valentine's Day roses

Love: red roses signify romantic love and are by far the most popular colour of flower given to loved ones on February 14.

Lust: If you can’t keep your hands off each other, then an orange rose says it all - a flower synonymous with passion and enthusiasm.

The one: If you are madly in love and looking for a less predictable token of your affection then give purple roses, they symbolise love at first sight.

Friends: Perhaps you’re just friends - a yellow rose is symbolic of both friendship and joy.

Thanks: Give a pink rose and you are showing a loved one appreciation and gratitude.

Careful: A white rose could be a bit of a gamble as white is generally considered a symbol of both purity and remembrance. It’s a popular decoration for funerals.

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In Depth

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It might surprise some people to learn that 'corporal encounters' are still remarkably popular on Valentine's Day, judging by the demand for rattan products.

Of course if you're a male and all else fails you can scan the Personal columns of any large newspaper as a last resort. Just add money.

If you're a woman then safe satisfaction is far less available - non-existent in many situations. Society seems incapable of accepting that some women have such needs.