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Valentine’s Day: whether you love it or you hate it, it’s important to know where it’s celebrated, particularly if you’re visiting England or the UK on Valentine’s Day and want to know if you’ve got options for a date night!
So the answer to, “does England celebrate Valentine’s Day?” (including the rest of the UK) is: yes! They do.
On February 14th every single year.
Before we jump into how the Brits celebrate Valentine’s Day, let’s give a quick rundown of the history of Valentine’s Day in the UK.
Valentine’s Day History in the UK
Valentine’s Day as a romantic holiday dates back quite a long ways to various saints, but the first association with Valentine’s Day and romantic love was by Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet who wrote the Parliament of Fowls in 1382.
There isn’t a recorded tradition of Valentine’s Day in the UK before this mention, and further descriptions of February 14th being Valentine’s Day don’t happen again until 1400 when there was allegedly an “annual celebration of love” (that may or may not have actually happened!) and then again in a 15th century valentine.
Shakespeare mentions Valentine’s Day as Saint Valentine’s Day in Hamlet, and over the years the popularity of the holiday grew in the UK until it became commercialized in 1797 when a British publisher came out with a guide for young men on various verses he could use on Valentine’s Day that were emotional or sentimental.
Paper valentines then had a rise in popularity and began to be made commercially – people started to send Valentine’s Day cards through the mail, particularly after mail got less expensive in the 1800s.
The UK also was responsible for making chocolate associated with Valentine’s Day, as Cadbury created a box of chocolates in the shape of a heart in 1868 just for the occasion.
How is Valentine’s Day Celebrated in England?
Valentine’s Day is not a public holiday or a bank holiday in the UK, meaning that you don’t get off work for it, but that doesn’t mean people don’t celebrate.
Typically, it is mostly a case of people buying presents, chocolates, or flowers for their significant other – children may exchange them in schools, but you wouldn’t get a Valentine’s Day gift for your coworkers or for your platonic friends unless you’re celebrating a modern spin-off of something like “Galentines Day!” for those single ladies.
The statistic is that half of the UK population spends money each year on Valentine’s Day.
Many people will book a romantic meal at a special restaurant for Valentine’s Day, or they may book into a hotel or go to a spa or other relaxing couple’s vacation retreat to coincide with the day or the nearest weekend.
England celebrations of Valentine’s Day relatively closely coincide with the American version of the holiday, though having lived in the UK for 10 years, I would say that there is less emphasis on the holiday than in the US in terms of the scale of how far people go with it, but you absolutely will be able to buy Valentine’s Day cards and gifts within the UK for the one you love.
If you’re in London, you can check out my guide on romantic things to do in London for couples (or romantic things to do in Edinburgh if you’re Scotland-based), but no matter where you are in the UK, you’ll be able to find something fun to do nearby with a Valentine’s Day set menu or special show or event.