Valentine’s Day

Comprehension Activities


It has its roots in an Ancient festival that featured goats… Shakespeare was a fan… and it was changed forever by the Hallmark company. This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to Valentine’s Day—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.

And I’m Bryce Corbett.

In the days leading up to February 14 Australians are predicted to spend almost $400 million on Valentine’s cards, chocolates, flowers, and other romantic gestures. Globally, it’s a whopping $50 BILLION dollars.. most of that in America. Roses are red, lovehearts are too, if you want to spend money, V-Day’s for you!

Hmmm… I suggest not writing a poem for your Valentine, Amanda. Today, we’ll take you through WHEN Valentine’s Day got started, HOW it is celebrated by different people, and WHAT are some of the craziest real-life romantic gestures we’ve discovered.

Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!

Bryce, are you ready to hop into the Squiz Kids time machine? I’m taking you back… way back… to Ancient Rome, and the festival of Lupercalia, which was held from February 13 to 15. Now suffice to say, Bryce, that this is a not a festival you’d be likely see on the streets today.

What are we talking?

Well, apparently young men, who were naked, would sacrifice a goat and a dog, then whip women with the hides, or skins, of the animals they had just killed. Believe it or not, young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, because they thought that a good flogging with a goat skin would help them become mothers one day. There was also a matchmaking aspect, where men drew names of women from a jar and would then date that woman over the festival period – and longer if it went well.

Wow! So it wasn’t exactly flowers and choccies, but there was that aspect of people looking for romance. But how did Lupercalia become known as St Valentine’s Day?

Well, Valentine’s Day is a combination of different celebrations that over hundreds of years kind of morphed into one thing. The name also comes from Ancient Rome, in the 3rd century, when the Emperor is said to have executed … that means put to death… either one or two men named Valentine on Febuary 14.

That doesn’t sound very romantic!

Not at all. Valentine was Christian priest, and executed for his religion. But there is a romantic connection… a common legend states that St. Valentine secretly married couples, against the Emperor’s orders, because married men didn’t have to go to war.

Aha, now I’m seeing what love has to do with it.

So in the fifth century, as Christianity started to take hold in Rome, the Pope wanted to put an end to the naked, goat sacrificing part of Lupercalia, so he merged the feast day of St Valentine with Lupercalia. Over the years, this day celebrating the patron saint of love, young people, and happy marriages, spread in popularity throughout Europe. Handmade Valentine’s cards for your love were a common thing in the Middle Ages — which went from about the 6th to the 15th century. And the famous playwright Shakespeare mentions St Valentine’s Day in two of his most famous works, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Hamlet.

To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.

Ophelia, Hamlet’s doomed girlfriend, in Act 4, Scene 5… very impressive, Bryce!

Thank you, thank you. So how did we go from handmade cards and Shakespeare to a $50 billion event?

Well, starting in the 18th century, many societies all over the world went through an industrial revolution – meaning that lots of people moved to cities and started taking jobs in factories. So, for example, instead of women on farms spinning sheep’s wool, big factories started buying the wool and using machines to spin more wool, faster. Now imagine what that meant for handmade paper Valentine’s cards…

Mass production! Once the holiday took off in the USA, and the Hallmark company started making its mass produced cards in 1913, well, it’s never really been the same. Let’s talk about HOW people celebrate nowadays.

Bryce, have you ever gotten a Valentine’s day card?

I did, in about year 8 I think. I was very excited, until I realised that the handwriting looked an awful lot like my Mum’s. 

Well, cards are definitely still the main way that Valentine’s Day is celebrated. And statistics do show that lots of people aren’t just getting them for people they have a crush on, or are partnered up with. One survey showed that people got Valentines for kids, like your Mum, but also their dogs, cats, and friends.

You could end up having to buy a lot of cards!

Well, in America, where I was a teacher, our school had a rule that if you wanted to bring a Valentine for someone in your class, you had to bring a Valentine for EVERYONE. It was a nice way to make sure no feelings got hurt, but it did mean that you had to make or buy a lot of cards!

A lot of adults also will buy flowers – especially red roses – on Valentine’s Day, as well as chocolates. And it can be hard to get a booking in a restaurant, especially those romantic ones with candles on the table…

Quite a lot of people also choose to get married on Valentine’s Day – in the Philippines, it’s not unusual on February 14 to see mass weddings of hundreds of people. It’s the most common wedding anniversary date! Benedict Cumberbatch, the actor you may know better as Dr Strange, also got married on Valentine’s Day… and so did Harrison Ford, aka Han Solo.

I can only imagine what crazy things celebrities might do on Valentine’s Day. WHAT are some of the biggest romantic gestures you’ve learned about?

Ah… where to start? There are the Guinness records for the biggest box of chocolates, weighing almost 1,700kg; a heartshaped bouquet of 41,249 pink flowers; and… you won’t believe this one… the record for the “hottest kiss,” which was set on an episode the Bachelor, when a man and a woman ate extremely hot jabanero peppers, then managed to kiss for one minute and 41 seconds, before presumably running and chugging a litre or two of milk.

And in terms of the things that only money can buy, TV actor John Stamos hired a Disney animator to make a romantic film and screened it privately for his girlfriend, at Disneyland, before asking her to marry him. She said yes.
Beyonce bought a private jet for Jay-Z… something you can do too if you have a spare $60 million

Maybe I’ll just get two!

And staying with aeronautics – that’s a word that means related to aircraft – a German multimillionaire hired a helicopter to drop a tonne of red roses in the backyard of French film star Brigitte Bardot, in the 1960s. He was trying to get her attention, and it certainly worked… they got married later that year, but it only lasted about three years.

Which goes to show that while presents and cards and flowers are nice, there’s a whole lot more to love.

This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening…
1. Who is the famous English playwright and poet who included Valentine’s Day in his work? ”
2. What’s the name of the revolution that saw people moving to cities and working in factories?
3. What would you prefer, a day at Disneyland without anyone else there, or a private jet?