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The History of Valentine's Day

Love Through the Ages

Clark Gable and Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind, one of our Top 10 Romantic Movies

The Story Behind St. Valentine

In the movie “Don Juan DeMarco,” Johnny Depp says, “There are four questions of value in life... What is sacred? Of what is the spirit made? What is worth living for, and what is worth dying for? The answer to each is the same. Only love.” That impossible-to-define and sometimes seemingly impossible-to-reach force, which has driven most literature and art from time immemorial, is celebrated in many countries around the world on February 14, a day designated as St. Valentine's Day.

Woe is he who neglects to present his lady with at least a symbolic love-token on this day. However, while flowers, chocolates and even jewelry have become almost expected and not just appreciated as thoughtful gifts, it is important to remember that Valentine's Day is not just an excuse for giving and receiving presents as proof of affection. The holiday has a long and romantic past, and is meant to remind us that love has no price tag, but should be shown and appreciated every day of the year.

As with most traditions, Valentine's Day has evolved over many centuries. Pre-Christian ancient Rome celebrated the beginning of spring as well as Lupercalia, a fertility festival, in mid-February. Cleansing and purification rituals were performed to honor Faunus, the god of agriculture, as well as the twins Romulus and Remus, founders of Rome. Part of the festivities included a sort of “love lottery,” in which young women placed their names in a giant urn; young men would pick at random a name, and whoever they chose would be their companion for a year, often resulting in marriage. Christian elements would later join this “pagan” holiday. It is widely believed that in the third century, a priest named Valentine went against Emperor Cladius II's orders and performed marriage ceremonies for young men in the military. His disobedience led to his imprisonment and death, but not before he too fell in love and left the first Valentine to his beloved: legend has it that before he was killed, he left a love letter to the jailer's daughter, signed “Your Valentine.” Almost two centuries later, Pope Gelasius declared February 14 to be St. Valentine's Day. During the Middle Ages, the French and English believed that February 14 was the beginning of birds' mating season, adding a “coupling” element to the day that has lasted ever since.

Most of us fall into one of two Valentine's Day camps. Some see it as a sweet, romantic holiday where expressions of love are encouraged, while others regard it as a commercially-driven excuse to spend lots of money on something you should be doing anyway, telling your loved one you care. Whatever your views are, chances are if you are part of a couple, you will end up doing something special for your significant other on February 14. Otherwise, be careful about showing your face the next day! While hopeless romantics might not need any advice when it comes to planning the perfect rendezvous, we're more than happy to aid the helpless romantics arrange a romance-filled Valentine's Day to tell their sweetheart just how much they care. From intimate dinners to very intimate presents, we'll help make this Valentine's Day the sweetest (and steamiest) one yet!

ROMANTIC IDEAS

Get in the Valentine's Day spirit with our ideas for the perfect night out
SURPRISE YOUR SWEETIE
Guide to Valentine's Day
We've compiled the best gift, restaurant and date ideas to spice up your Valentine's Day, from the sexiest spas and movies to wines and foods.


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RESTAURANT AWARDS 2014

Check out the 2014 edition of GAYOT's Annual Restaurant Issue, which features the Top 40 Restaurants in the U.S., Rising Chefs and more.