Valentine’s Day around the world: the United Kingdom

Bokeh hearts

The 14th of February is widely known as the international day of lovers. The history surrounding the day is rich and fascinating. For example, the name Valentine was derived from a Roman priest executed because he refused to give up the Christian faith. Before this event, the British originally celebrated the day as a Roman festival known as Lupercalia, held to honour the gods, Pan and Juno. Since then, the custom surrounding February 14 continues to evolve.

In the Middle Ages, people in Britain believed this day to be the day where birds chose their mates in respect to their patron, Saint Valentine. Based on this belief, many English writers started to romanticise Valentine’s Day in their work. The poem below is the first verse of one of the very first poems written to celebrate love in relation to Valentine’s day in Britain.

A garden saw I, full of blossomy boughs

Upon a river, in a green mead,

There as sweetness evermore enough is,

With flowers white, blue, yellow, and red,

And cold well-streams, nothing dead,

That swimming full of small fishes light,

With fins red and scales silver bright.

Geoffrey Chaucer, 1382

In the 17th century, it was believed that the first person one meets in the morning will be his or her Valentine. Because of this, people were starting to go to their sweetheart’s house in a blindfold for fear of seeing the wrong person. 1477 was the earliest recording in the UK of sending romantic cards to a loved one. However, the custom only really began catching on in the mid-18th century.

While many people celebrate it, Valentine’s Day isn’t a public holiday in the UK. People are expected to go to work or school and carry on with their normal daily activities. In truth, many may spend the day preoccupied thinking of other things instead of working. After all, it’s a day dedicated to love. A 2017 survey says that the majority of British people, both men and women, believe that the purpose of Valentine’s Day is to show someone how much you care.

February 14th is a busy night in the UK, and preparations must be made in advance if you would like to celebrate it with your significant other. But how does a British person celebrate Valentine’s Day? Let’s see the things they do on the international lovers’ day.

Valentine's Day rose petal heart, card and candles

Romantic cards

Following their tradition from the Middle Ages, sending romantic cards is still a pretty common occurrence. Approximately 25 million cards are sent out on Valentine’s Day in the UK. While this number may seem enormous, the fact is it’s declining. In fact, 48% of British men prefer to convey their love messages through technology and only 8% of them send a letter or card. Social media and phone calls are the most used platforms, followed by texts and emails.

Four red roses against a black background


You can say that red roses are the symbol of Valentine’s Day. In 2016, the total amount Brits spent on flowers for February 14th reached almost £262 million! It’s undeniably one of the busiest days for florists as many people love to convey their feelings through gifts and treats. Flowers are a language of their own, and they can communicate a message as effectively as spoken words. Choosing the right flowers and colours is just like choosing the right words to say. Red roses mean true, everlasting love, which is why they’re so popular for couples and people in love. Be careful not to send your loved one yellow roses for Valentine’s, as they’re the traditional symbol of friendship! You can easily pick out a more appropriate bunch of roses delivered in London.

Purple foil-covered chocolate kisses


For 14% of Brits, heart-shaped sweets are an essential part of their Valentine’s Day survival kit. The link between chocolate and romance in the UK seems to stem from the Victorians’ practice of using chocolate as a tool of seduction. According to several etiquette books published at that time, giving a box of chocolate to a young woman is not only a declaration of the man’s love but also his good taste in selecting fine products. The act of chocolate-giving was considered so serious so that the etiquette books advised women not to accept the gift “from gentlemen to whom they are neither related nor engaged.

Restaurant table with wine bottle and glasses

Table for two

In 2015, at least two-thirds of couples in the UK planned to have a romantic dinner together to celebrate Valentine’s. As many people will be dining out, restaurant reservations need to be made in advance. Cooking for your partner is also becoming more and more popular as it can be seen as an equally romantic gesture. A survey of 7,000 people revealed that 22% of women feel that February 14th is the perfect time for a marriage proposal while only 14% men feel the same.

Pair of pigeons with the Eiffel Tower in the background

Weekend away

If there’s something that embodies what a modern woman wants on Valentine’s Day, it is going away on a holiday. As many as 27% British women prefer travelling with their significant other compared to gifts such as jewellery, spa treatments, or even a car.

Nowadays, Valentine’s Day isn’t only celebrated by those who are involved in a romantic relationship. Single people across England celebrate it, too, especially the women. At least 68% of women will be going out with their friends on February 14th, though roughly the same percentage of men prefer to be alone. However, both genders feel no pressure on this day as 83% of them say they wouldn’t use dating services to find a potential partner with whom just to spend Valentine’s.

Different countries have different customs. In the UK, you can expect to see shops and window displays filled with every shade of pink and red along with heart-shaped balloons and decorations on the days leading up to 14th February. What about you? How do you celebrate Valentine’s?