Valentine’s day in France: Traditions, celebrations and vocabulary

Valentine’s day in France: Traditions, celebrations and vocabulary

by Anne-Lise Vassoille

Updated June 20, 2023

If French is indeed the language of love, then surely it deserves a full bespoke article on the traditions of Valentine’s Day in France and some vocabulary. From ancient customs to more modern influences, this most romantic day of the year is celebrated across France in ways that are both familiar and unexpected. This is also reflected in the mots doux (sweet words) devoted to love and Valentine’s Day in French. So get ready to have your heart melt with this very amorous article.

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What are the traditions for Valentine’s Day in France?

By and large, the traditions around la fête de la Saint-Valentin in France are pretty much the same as anywhere in the world. It’s celebrated every year on February 14th, with people offering a romantic card and/or gift to their significant other. But contrary to some countries like the US, this doesn’t really extend to friends or close ones. 

While some consider la fête des amoureux (the feast of lovers) to be purely commercial and influenced by foreign traditions, the ancient and mysterious history of Valentine’s day tells us otherwise. There are also old local traditions in France that can be linked to Valentine’s Day. Just to name one, la Saudée used to take place in the former region of Lorraine on February 14th in the Middle Ages. Young men would gather and form couples and their pretended union would be jokingly proclaimed on the main square. In the year that followed, those same young men would spoil their actual betrothed with small gifts.

Nowadays, in the central department of Indre, the small village de Saint-Valentin hosts a three-day festival from the 12th to the 14th of February, full of romantic attractions and decorations.

A few useful French phrases specific to Valentine’s Day

As we know, Valentine’s Day is the time for romantic gestures. For example, you might invite your valentin (male valentine) or valentine (female valentine) to un dîner romantique (a romantic dinner) or by offering them des chocolats or des fleurs (flowers). And yes, un bouquet de roses rouges (a bunch of red roses) is a definite favorite. Or you may choose to go for a more original present, possibly even a language-themed gift!

You may also want to give une carte de la Saint-Valentin (a Valentine’s Day card) to wish Joyeuse Saint Valentin (Happy Valentine’s Day) or Bonne fête de la Saint Valentin (Have a good Valentine’s Day). As you may have noticed from those phrases, la Saint Valentin is considered a feminine word in French, which is somewhat puzzling considering Valentin is a male first name. The simple explanation is that la Saint-Valentin is the short version for la fête de la Saint Valentin, with fête (feast) being a feminine word.

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Some more vocabulary around love in French

Of course, Valentine’s Day in France and everywhere is not the only day when you can show your romantic side and there is much more to the language of love than saying I love you in French. If you believe in love at first sight and want to learn French in the blink of an eye to declare your love, then you might find the following expressions useful:

avoir le béguin pour quelqu’unto have a crush on someone
avoir un coup de foudreto fall in love at first sight
conter fleurette à quelqu’unto whisper sweet nothings in somebody’s ear
demander quelqu’un en mariageto ask somebody to marry you
demander la main de quelqu’unto ask somebody’s hand in marriage
draguer quelqu’unto hit on somebody, to make a move on somebody
écrire une lettre d’amour à quelqu’unto write a love letter to someone
faire une déclaration d’amour à quelqu’unto declare your love to someone
flirter avec quelqu’unto flirt with somebody
se fiancerto get engaged
se marierto get married
sortir avec quelqu’unto go out with somebody
tomber amoureux/amoureuse de quelqu’unto fall in love with somebody
une chanson d’amoura love song
vivre une amouretteto have a fling

And here are a few more words to talk about your other half:

un amant, une amantea loverBe careful: amant and amante refers to a sexual partner or an extraconjugal lover.
un chéri, une chériea darling
un conjoint, une conjointea partnerThe word only refers to love partners, and not to business partners.
un époux, une épousea spouse
une femmea wifeIn French, femme has two meanings: “woman” and “wife”.
un petit ami, une petite amiea boyfriend, a girlfriendThe literal meaning of the phrase is “little friend”.
un petit copain, une petite copinea boyfriend, a girlfriendSimilar to the expression above, the literal meaning of the phrase is “little pal” or ‘little mate”.
un maria husband

Fall madly in love with French Valentine’s Day phrases 

As you can see, Valentine’s Day in France has been a tradition for centuries. Like everywhere else in the world, French people celebrate Valentine’s Day with romantic gestures, love declarations and even some slightly peculiar traditions… It’s the perfect time for you to learn by heart the vocabulary around love and Valentine’s Day in French in order to impress your sweetheart and wish them a Joyeuse Saint Valentin!

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Anne-Lise is a translator and copywriter working for various industries, such as hospitality and travel, as well as health and well-being. Settled down in London since the end of her university years, she cannot get enough of the exceptional cultural life in the English capital city, starting with theater, be it to see a new West End show or to roll up her sleeves with her amateur drama group. She is also interested in photography, as her Instagram profile shows. She indulges her passion for languages in a translation blog she writes with other linguist friends. Go to her Linkedin page to know more about her background and her professional experience.

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