A short history of Valentine’s Day for teachers

As with many holidays that have existed for millennia, the true history of Valentine's Day is a bit murky.

The main theory of Valentine's Day

While there were three known St. Valentines that the Catholic tradition, the most widely accepted version connects Valentine's Day with the Saint Valentine who served under the Roman Emperor Claudius in the third century A.D. The Emperor held that single men make much better warriors that those who have wives and children, so according to his needs, he passed a law which banned marriage for all young men.

A priest called Valentine believed this was wrong because it was against God's commands and against his ultimate law, which is love. That is why he continued to marry young couples in secrecy.

While what the priest Valentine has done might be according to God's wishes, it was undoubtedly against the Emperor's command. As soon as he discovered the betrayal, he executed Valentine.

Two centuries later, the Vatican canonised Valentine for his bravery and dedicated the February 14th to him.

Possible pagan roots of Valentine's Day

According to the religious tradition, the middle of February was chosen for Valentine’s Day celebration to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death. On the other hand, there are theories that the Catholic church was guided by very practical goals when choosing the date for the St. Valentine's holiday. It might have occurred to replace a significant Roman pagan festival dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture Faunus, and to Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of the Roman state and empire - in their honour, a Roman pagan festival called Lupercalia used to take place on February 15th.

On this date, an order of Roman pagan priests called Luperci gathered in a sacred cave where they believed Romulus and Remus were brought up by a female wolf - Lupa. Luperci would sacrifice a goat and a dog. Then they would use the strips of the goat's hide to touch Roman women, who embraced the practice because they believed it would make them more fertile. According to the legend, they would later help the locals pair up by pulling women's names from an urn and connecting them with bachelors; these pairings often resulted in marriages.

According to this theory, Lupercalia was outlawed as an "unchristian" practice in the same century that St. Valentine's Day was declared by Pope Gelasius.

February Romance

Another theory of why we celebrate Valentine's Day on this particular date is rooted in the fact that the middle of February is a beginning of the mating season for many birds in England. Of course, male birds sing during their courtship. Is there a more romantic reason to dedicate a holiday to love and romance than bird's song?

We know that Valentine greetings were popular as far as the Middle Ages. In 1415, Charles the Duke of Orleans wrote a Valentine poem to his wife while he was imprisoned after being captured in the Battle of Agincourt. That is the oldest known written valentine which was saved to this date.

Remember that the story of a holiday doesn't have to be completely clear to talk about it in class. In fact, it can be an advantage for teaching, as it can show how multi-layered the human history really is. Choose your Valentine's story and how deep you're going to explore the theories of its origins according to your student's age, but don't forget the essence of it - in all cases, it is the celebration of love. 

Looking for a low prep option this Valentine's Day? Why not check out my Valentine's Day Celebration Study? It's fun, engaging, and students just love it. 

A short history of Chinese New Year for teachers

Chinese communities across the world celebrate the Chinese New Year in magnificent and colourful ways. The Chinese New Year is also often celebrated in schools and classrooms, so knowing a few details about it is useful for every teacher.

What is Chinese New Year?

Chinese New Year is the biggest Chinese holiday. Traditionally, it used to be celebrated for a whole month, but in the modern day, the duration of the celebration is often only 3-5 days.

Many rituals and routines are the part of the Chinese New Year celebrations, such as red-coloured decorations, ritual cleaning of homes before the New Year eve, and gift giving, feasts and family reunions, and street parades on the night of the New Year and in the subsequent few days of celebration.

What is the connection to the Chinese Zodiac?

The Chinese new year celebrations are arranged in cycles counting 12 years, each represented by an animal of the Chinese Zodiac. The belief is that the person born in a particular year will have the attributes of an animal to which the year is dedicated. That especially goes for the character. The Chinese Zodiac analyzes and psychological features of people based on the year they were born in great depth.


Why is Chinese New Year celebrated at a different date each year?

The Chinese New Year occurs on a different date every year because the ancient Chinese followed a lunar calendar. When looking at a lunar calendar, the new year begins on the first night of the new moon after the Sun enters the constellation of Aquarius. 

Origins of the Chinese New Year

The Chinese New Year is such an ancient holiday that no one is really sure how it came to be. Still, many legends about its origins exist and have survived to this date.

One of those legends is the one about a creature called Nian - a name which means "year" in Chinese. Nian appeared one night before the New Year and started to prey on villagers of the surrounding villages. An old man decided to put a stop to this. He went to the beast and told him that he should not feed on people, but on other beasts which commonly frightened the villagers. Nian listened to him and chased all of these beasts back to the forests. The villagers were grateful to the old man, and to their surprise, he came back riding on Nian's back - it turned out he was a god. Before leaving the area, he advised the villagers to put up the red decorations on their windows and doors, and to use the gunpowder, all to scare away the beasts that used to frighten them. And people took his advice, at the same time scaring the beasts and celebrating the salvation that the deity brought to them.

Exploring this, and many other legends concerning the Chinese New Year is a great way to educate your students about the particular holiday, as well as about Chinese traditional beliefs and culture. The Chinese New Year has a great potential for classroom programmes, crafts, and celebrations, so bringing a bit of the Chinese New Year luck into your class is sure to be rewarding.