Celebrate Valentine’s Day à la française (the French way)

Celebrating Valentine’s Day soon? I have 10 French words you can incorporate into your special day, plus a mini-history of Valentine’s Day.

The French language has been a part of my life from a young age. From French class in elementary school to graduating with a bachelor’s in French (plus briefly living in France), I’ve had the pleasure of learning fascinating historical and cultural information about this lovely country and its people.

Known as “le jour de la Saint-Valentin” in French, the way Valentine’s Day is celebrated in France has some interesting differences compared to the United States.

10 French Phrases to Help You Celebrate Valentine’s Day

In addition to exchanging material gifts, there are a few words and phrases that the French use to celebrate la Saint-Valentin.

  1. Joyeuse Saint-Valentin!” – Happy Valentine’s Day!
  2. Je t’aime” – “I love you”
  3. mon chéri” – “my darling” , masculine
  4. ma chérie” – “my darling” , feminine
  5. mon amour” – “my love”
  6. les bijoux” – jewelry, jewels
  7. le chocolat” – chocolate
  8. le vin rouge” – red wine
  9. les fleurs” – flowers
  10. un cadeau” – a gift

Your French Lesson:
Now, put some of it together and you have: “Joyeuse Saint-Valentin, mon amour! Je t’aime.”

Modern Day France: Valentine’s Day is only celebrated by couples in France (except when it’s not).

Yes, Valentine’s Day is traditionally only celebrated by romantic couples in France. Whereas in the U.S. and elsewhere, the holiday can be a time for expressing one’s feelings on a romantic or platonic level, like with friends and family. According to recent polls, approximately 70% of French couples today will celebrate “la Saint-Valentin” with a nice dinner out, gifting red roses, jewelry, or other precious items.

However, culture, much like language, changes. Recently many people in France are beginning to adopt the U.S. tradition. They tend to celebrate on a more platonic or familial level, expressing gratitude and affection for friends, mothers, fathers, and children.

The History of Valentine’s Day

Contrary to how many U.S. residents may feel about this so-called “Hallmark Holiday,” its background is actually full of fascinating history.

While many background stories differ, and it’s difficult to pinpoint where history ends and myth begins, the story about Saint Valentine stems from the 3rd century during the Roman Empire.

A priest called Valentine defied the cruel Emperor Claudius II, who forbade weddings. Valentine was sentenced to death for performing marriages in secret. What’s more, he was said to have performed miracles like curing the blind. Sadly, Valentine was apprehended and executed on February 14th.

According to Christian myth, Valentine was a Christian priest who suffered persecution like many Christians did during that time. Having died for his faith, Valentine was martyred and declared a saint. He became known as the Catholic Patron saint of lovers, beekeepers, and people with epilepsy.

Interestingly enough, the date February 14th intersects with Lupercalia, the pagan celebration of fertility for the deities Luperculus and Juno. Lupercalia was celebrated every year from Feb 13th – 15th and was known as “Fertility Day.” While Valentine’s Day and Lupercalia may have coexisted peacefully for a couple of hundred years, Lupercalia was eventually outlawed by Pope Gelasius I in the 5th century. February 14th was further declared a Christian holiday to celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Valentine.

I hope this post has provided insight into the history of la Saint-Valentin and inspires you to incorporate some French into your Valentine’s Day celebration this year!