All around the world, lovers gather together on February 14th to celebrate romance and love. Even if you’re not committed to another right now, Valentine’s Day is still a beautiful occasion to celebrate any variety of love – familial, friendly and, of course, for oneself. Surely it feels better – perhaps more accurate – to spend the day with a lover, but there are a variety of ways through which you can still commemorate the day by yourself, with friends or even strangers! Come find out more about the origins of Valentine’s Day (or Dia dos Namorados, as it is commonly known here), how it is celebrated and recommendations for some activities.
The origins of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to Rome, where an ancient festival called Lupercalia took place on February 14th. This festival celebrated fertility, as well as paying homage to Juno, goddess of women and marriage, and Pan, god of nature.
Being celebrated widely in the general Global North, the date also has roots in Catholicism, where it actually gets its “Valentine” name from. In the third century, Emperor Claudius II forbade marriages during wars, with the premise that soldiers should be concentrated on military life only. However, a bishop named Valentine was against the measure and continued to freely celebrate marriages. When this disobedience was discovered, the bishop was arrested and sentenced to death. While he was imprisoned, many anonymous admirers sent him letters and flowers as a way of showing compassion – which is where the tradition of lovers exchanging flowers and cards began.
Legend has it that during his time in prison, the bishop fell in love with a prison guard’s daughter, who was blind. It is believed that the bishop gave her back her sight, like a true miracle of love – which made him acquire the title of Saint. Before being executed, the bishop wrote letters to his beloved, signing them with “Your Valentine” or “From your Valentine” – another tradition we hold to this day. The bishop was executed on February 14, and, since then, the date has represented the importance of love.
The celebration of Valentine’s Day gained global recognition in the 19th century, mainly due to the mass production of popular and inexpensive Valentine cards. It was then further popularised by globalisation, especially via culture – TV, movies, etc. Nowadays, the date tends to mostly circle around consumerism, but it is still a very special occasion for lovers (partnered or not) everywhere.
Valentine’s Day traditions are pretty similar throughout the West – getting a romantic, candlelit dinner; gifting flowers (particularly roses), chocolates and cards; spending the night at a hotel; buying new lingerie – the traditions are pretty identical. But Portugal has a particular, sweet tradition – the “lenços de namorados” or lovers’ handkerchiefs (pictured).
These handkerchiefs are made from fine linen or cotton cloth and embroidered with a variety of motifs and words. They are very typical of the Minho region and designed in order to be worn by women of marriageable age – to signal precisely that. When the women fell in love, it was tradition for them to give the handkerchief to the man they loved. If these loving feelings were reciprocated, the man would wear it publicly in order to “announce” the beginning of the romantic relationship between the two. Nowadays, they are mostly marketed as souvenirs from the Minho region, and as cultural symbols – making them great, special gifts.
These Valentine’s traditions also start very young, when children are encouraged to send Valentine’s cards to each other (even between friends) at school and to make cute DIY gifts for their family.
Portugal is such a particular and special country, that there are a great number of unique activities you can partake in here. “Feliz Dia dos Namorados”!
English • Portuguese • Spanish • German • Italian • French
Sign up for our newsletter and don’t miss the latest news and offers!