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A photo to highlight Valentine's Day. It shows two pigeons making a heart with their necks and beaks, with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

Celebrating Valentine’s Day in Paris

February 14th is known worldwide as the day of love. It’s a day to show the one(s) you love just how much you care. A day when millions of cards, flower bouquets, and boxes of chocolate are exchanged among romantic partners, friends, and co-workers. Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is here to stay. And you would think that of all places, the City of Love would go all out every February 14th. I know I certainly expected a sea of red hearts down every street for my first Valentine’s Day in Paris. However, like pretty much everything else in France, the French do things slightly differently.

La Saint-Valentin

The origins of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to the third century and the Roman Empire, when a clergyman by the name of Valentine continued to minister to Christians, despite their persecution at the time. In particular, he was known for performing forbidden weddings, which centuries later helped to associate his name with love. Valentine was martyred by the Romans on February 14th, 269, and he became a saint of the Catholic religion in the late 5th century.

Today, France is still a predominantly Catholic country, and therefore Valentine’s Day is known as La Saint-Valentin. And in case you were wondering, that is not a typo. It really is La Saint-Valentin, feminine, despite the fact that Saint Valentine was a man. This is because the full title of today’s holiday is actually La Fête de Saint-Valentin, meaning the holiday or feast day of Saint Valentine. Valentine’s Day in France remains rooted in the Catholic tradition, despite the best efforts of modern consumerism.

For Adults Only

When I was a child, I would painstakingly write out a Valentine’s Day card for each and every one of my classmates. I would then receive one in turn from each of them, and I would treasure the pile of cards and candies that I would amass by the end of the day. Sadly, French children have never known this joy. Valentine’s Day in France is a holiday for adults only, and specifically for adults in romantic relationships. Therefore, don’t make the same mistake that I did the first year I was here and give Valentine’s Day gifts to your friends. They might get the wrong idea.

A Card for my Love?

The French do give gifts to their romantic partners on Valentine’s Day, including flowers, chocolates, and jewelry. But the most common gift is going out for a meal together. Every holiday is an excuse to eat in France! However, interestingly, cards are not typically exchanged. Very generally speaking, the French don’t often say “I love you” so much as they demonstrate it. Which could explain the lack of cards on Valentine’s Day. Why profess your love in words when you can show it through your actions?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Despite the relatively subdued celebration of locals, Paris will always be the City of Love. Millions of people visit every year in search of love and romance, and Paris absolutely has both in spades. So whether you’re in Paris today or somewhere else in the world, I’m wishing you a day filled with love, in whatever form it comes to you. Happy Valentine’s Day!

Laura Moore is a professional storyteller who loves history and the many stories that make Paris one of the most fascinating cities in the world. Join one of her signature tours to learn the story of a city.


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