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L’amour Francophone: From Valentine’s Day to Marriage

Origins of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner. Major retailers have been stocking up for months on chocolate gift boxes, candy hearts, and bouquets of roses (for those last-minute gift-givers). But where did this commercial holiday originate? Where else but the Roman Empire.

When Emperor Claude II (nicknamed Cruel Claude) chose to ban weddings across the entire empire, one brave priest chose to defy this order in the name of love. Valentin persuaded young couples to continue to wed, offering his services despite the ban. For his crimes, Valentin was sentenced to jail, and then executed. 

During his time in jail, Valentin came to fall in love with the blind daughter of his cell guard. His execution was set for February 14th, he set to make his last day memorable for the girl. First, he gifted her a heart-shaped card which was signed “Your Valentin.” Legend has it, he also granted the girl the ability to see. In the 5th century, Pope Gelase I declared Valentin a Saint posthumously. 

The tradition of celebrating Valentine’s Day did not become popularized until the Middle Ages, when it became a counter against a pagan celebration of fertility. Lupercalia, celebrated from February 13th to 15th, was designed to honor Luperculus and Juno, of Roman mythology, and their role in fertility. Wanting a more centralized “Christian” holiday, the Church officially declared February 14th as Saint Valentine’s Day. With that, our modern idea of the day of love was born. 

Valentine’s Day in Haïti

In Haïti, Valentine’s Day can be a way to celebrate your love in a non-traditional manner. Many Haïtian men tend to go to the “Love Festival” to buy chocolates, gifts, and flowers for their spouses. The “Love Festival” is a collection of merchants in the street who sell love-themed gift packages, chocolates, and other Valentine’s Day staples. For the people of Haïti, this marks one of the few occasions where an entire community coalesces around each other. Additionally, many citizens will wear festive colors on Valentine’s Day, such as pink and red, to symbolize a celebration of love and commitment. 

Dating in France

In France, nearly ¾ of all citizens celebrate Valentine’s Day. Unlike in the United States, Valentine’s Day in France is for dedicated couples, not general acquaintances, or new flings. This may be a side effect of the dating culture in France. French dating tends to be relatively traditional; casual dates are not very common, and dating is often only considered after a couple has become acquainted as friends first. The French are very particular in letting relationships develop as they may. Men tend to pursue women, but women are known to go after a man they may be interested in pursuing as well. In general, PDA is acceptable and expected. Couples are often seen engaging in affectionate activities from a very early point. After all, Paris is the city of love, so maybe its atmosphere contributes to the openness. French couples also tend to say those three magic words quicker than other nations around the globe. “I love you” can come as early as the first few weeks of a French relationship, according to some. Overall, French dating is a slow-burn process, with extra amounts of PDA and casual use of that magic phrase. 

Marriage in Côte d’Ivoire

In Côte d’Ivoire, or the Ivory Coast, marriage is a sacred endeavor. Civil marriages are the only types of marriages recognized by the state (religious marriages still take place, but must be accompanied by the civil documentation), and follow a specific path. First, both members of the couple must submit intents of marriage to the registry (typically housed within a town hall or similar establishment). To submit intents, the male must be 21 or older, and the female must be 18 or older, unless specific documentation is provided to waive this requirement. After a 21-day waiting period, the registrar will allow the couple to be married at their earliest desire. All weddings must take place within the town hall and be officiated by the registrar. 

On their wedding day, couples are also gifted a “family book,” which begins on their wedding day and traces births, deaths, weddings, and divorces within their extended families. Other traditional marriage customs in the country include a meeting between the two families known as “Knock Door.” Knock Door is a custom where the groom will bring his family to the residence of the bride’s family, where they will all meet and discuss the marriage. The bride is notably absent from this initial meeting. Later into the planning of marriage, a tradition called “Fake Bride” will take place. Essentially, several women (often friends or sisters of the bride) will line up with their full bodies covered and the groom must choose “the real bride.” Often, the actual bride is not included in the lineup, and it serves as a source of fun between the connecting families. When the bride is included, the couple makes sure to coordinate the selection, often by using shoes or jewelry as an indicator. 

Something else that occurs in the marriage process is “dowry.” Dowry is an itemized list of things that the bride’s family expects the groom's family to provide them, in exchange for their daughter’s hand in marriage. The dowry can be used both in its original literal sense and just as a cultural tradition.  Worth noting, however, is that women in the Ivory Coast have a great deal of say and influence in their groom, as forced marriage has been declared illegal, and the bride must be the one to submit an intent to marry to apply for their wedding. 

L'Amour Autour du Monde

So, as you rush out to pick out the best of the scraps of roses left over at your local grocery store by 6pm on the 14th, take a moment to reflect on your own traditions. Love is one of the universal languages. But its expression and cultural relevance can vary significantly depending on where you are from. How do you show love during this time of year? Leave your comments below!

Written by Kaleb Houle-Lawrence – College Intern

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