As French is the language of love and France is the land of lovers, le Jour de Saint Valentin or Valentine’s Day is an important ‘Fête’ or feast day in France.
Three Saint Valentin are listed in the calendar of saints’ days and one, of course, is February 14.
The day has been celebrated in one way or another, in France since Roman times, first as the feast of Juno, then as the day (in the middle of February) when animals coupled for spring births. By the Middle Ages, the day had become a day for couples (human, and strictly male and female) In an age where to be single was to be in a precarious, if not dangerous situation, especially for women, le Jour De Saint Valentin became a day for match-making. The tradition of the “loterie d’amour” was born. This involved single people of all ages descending on the houses across the street and calling through windows until they eventually found a match. The man was supposed to become the woman’s champion and protector for the following year and then, hopefully, her husband. But all too often the woman was rejected out of hand. No mention is made of rejected men, so presumably that never happened. The spurned women took their revenge that night by burning the rejecters’ effigies at a public bonfire and hurling abuse at them. The practice got so out of hand (or the men felt so threatened) that before too long, it was banned.
A kinder tradition is the one attributed to the Duc D’Orleans. Imprisoned in the Tower of London after the battle of Agincourt in 1514, he wrote love letters, cards and poems for the love of his life, his wife in France. The tradition lives on today as “la Carte D’Amitié” or as we Anglophones call it, the Valentine’s card.
The place to be in France, if not the world for Le Jour De Saint Valentin is the little village of St. Valentin in Indre, the central Val de Loire region, which has in 1960s dubbed itself the ‘Village of Love’. Then in the 1980s the Mayor created a Lovers Garden (Jardin des Amoureux) and inaugurated the annual festival of Saint Valentin.
During the three day festival, the village is decorated with red roses and lovers from all around the globe flock to Le Jardin des Amoureux. Couples can get married in the gazebo, plant a tree to commemorate their love and pin hearts or love tokens to the Tree of Vows or Tree of Eternal Hearts. Out in the village, they can letters stamped at the St. Valentin post office, buy chocolate hearts from the local chocolatiers, dance at the Bal de St Valentin and eat a wonderful St Valentin repas