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History of Valentine’s Day: from Roman love festivals to pampered pooches

Whoever the loved one in your life is, Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate all things romantic. Although 14 February hasn’t always been a day for cards, gifts and affection…

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While it’s a celebration of love and romance nowadays, Valentine’s Day hasn’t always been about red roses and grand gestures of affection. In fact, 14 February was originally a day to honour martyrs who went by the name of Valentine. Emperor Claudius II executed two men – a priest and a bishop – on 14 February in different years. Both men were called Valentine and were later recognised by the Catholic church with a celebration called St. Valentine’s Day.

St. Valentine’s Day also coincided with the Roman celebration of Lupercalia between 13 and 15 February. A feast about fertility, Lupercalia involved being drunk and naked, while couples were matched together for the entirety of the festival!

In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I tried to ban the pagan ritual of Lupercalia, but some of the festival’s traditions ended up becoming mixed up with the St. Valentine’s Day celebrations instead. This was the first time there was any hint of St. Valentine’s Day being an occasion about fertility and love.

It was the author and poet Geoffrey Chaucer who made a stronger suggestion of Valentine’s Day is about love. In 1382, he wrote a line in a poem about every bird going to choose a mate on Valentine’s Day. Although no real tradition of Valentine’s Day being romantic existed at this time, Chaucer’s words are thought to have been the start of Valentine’s Day as we know it today.

A steady flow of references between love and Valentine’s Day appeared in poetry and historical accounts from that moment on. The day started to become more commercial and in 1797, a book called The Young Man’s Valentine Writer was published. The book contained dozens of poems and verses for young lovers who were unable to come up with their own poetic declarations of love! Soon after, Valentine’s cards became the norm, with high-end versions made of lace and ribbons instead of paper.

Nowadays, an estimated £2 billion is spent every year in the UK alone on Valentine’s Day cards, flowers, chocolates and gifts. In a modern twist compared to Roman times, mobile phones are now the most popular way Valentine’s Day gifts are organised. According to the National Retail Federation, 25% use their phone to buy a Valentine’s present, 18% use it to book a meal and 17% use it for special Valentine’s Day hotel bookings.

In the USA, it’s not only humans who benefit from a little attention on Valentine’s Day. Americans spend an estimated $681 million per year on Valentine’s Day gifts for their pets!

The Runnymede on Thames is the perfect spot to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a meal, overnight stay, spa experience or gift voucher for your special someone to enjoy at their leisure. And if your loved one happens to have four legs and a tail, we even have some dog-friendly rooms ready and waiting for you!

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