To most of us, it’s all about hearts, flowers and chocolates but Valentine’s Day draws its origins from many sources and as George R Vaughan discovered when he looked into the history of this most romantic of celebrations, it means different things to different people.
Although there are a number of tales relating to the origins of Valentine’s Day, most tend to circulate around the story of St Valentine, a Roman who was martyred for refusing to give up Christianity. Legend has it that he died on February 14th, 269 A.D. It goes on to say that he left a farewell note to the jailer’s daughter (who had become his friend) signing it “From Your Valentine”.
Of course, February 14th was already a date celebrated in the Roman calendar as a holiday to honour Juno, the Queen of the Roman Gods and she was also known as the Goddess of women and marriage.
As time passed by, the date became synonymous with the exchanging of love messages and poems and it is because of this that St Valentine became the patron saint of lovers.
The first cards were believed to have been sent out some time at the start of the 19th century in the United States, with Miss Esther Howland credited as being the originator of this act.
Traditions of Valentine’s Day
Centuries ago, English children would dress up as adults on Valentine’s Day and then went singing from home to home.
In Wales, wooden love spoons were carved and given as gifts on February 14th. Hearts, keys and keyholes were favourite decorations on the spoons. The decoration meant “You unlock my heart!”
In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their Valentine’s would be. They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week. To wear your heart on your sleeve now means that it is easy for other people to know how you are feeling.
In some countries, a young woman may receive a gift of clothing from a young man. If she keeps the gift, it means she will marry him.
Some people used to believe that if a woman saw a robin flying overhead on Valentine’s Day, it meant she would marry a sailor. If she saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy. If she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a millionaire.
A love seat is a wide chair. It was first made to seat one woman and her wide dress. Later, the love seat or courting seat had two sections, often in an S-shape. In this way, a couple could sit together – but not too closely!
Think of five or six names of boys or girls you might marry, as you twist the stem of an apple. Simultaneously recite the names until the stem comes off. Legend has it that you will marry the person whose name you were speaking as the stem came off.
Pick a dandelion that has gone to seed. Take a deep breath and blow the seeds into the wind. Count the seeds that remain on the stem and this will be the number of children you have. Another spin on this is if you cut an apple in half, count how many seeds are inside and this will also tell you how many children you can expect to have.
The symbol of the Dove is thought to portray happiness and if you see a dove on Valentine’s Day it will most likely mean you will marry a kind-hearted man.
An Alternative Valentine’s Day
For most people, celebrating Valentine’s Day usually involves chocolates, flowers and a romantic meal for two.
However, we have unearthed some stories of people who celebrated Valentine’s Day in a rather more unorthodox fashion.
One creative woman bought a number of old board games from a jumble sale, one of which was Monopoly. She took the chance cards, wrapped them in red and made her husband a “get out of an argument free” card, a “forgetfulness free card”, an “I’m sorry” card and an “I’m glad to be married to you” card. How sweet!
A woman came home to find that her husband – rather than putting away all the children’s toy bricks – built a huge “I LOVE YOU” in plastic blocks on the floor up to her head height!
One young couple spent their first Valentine’s Day together in rather than going out. They hired someone to make them dinner, dressed up in their very best “going out” gear and ended up dancing and then sitting on the couch reminiscing over how they met and how much they felt for one another.
An industrious young man in wintry Nebraska painted out a huge “I Love You” in the snow, sixty feet across the house and lawn to surprise his wife when she came home. The neighbours were so impressed they called the newspapers and it made the front page of the local publication that very next day!
Another clever man decided to cook a meal for his Valentine but employed a very unique technique. All the food was either pink or red, to celebrate the event. A red onion and tomato soup starter was followed by red snapper, mashed potatoes (coloured pink with food dye) and red peppers. Desert was red jelly with raspberry sorbet and the whole thing was washed down with a lovely vintage bottle of wine (red, naturally).
A cook from Cumbria ordered a heart-shaped cookie cutter and then used it to make pancakes for her husband’s Valentine’s Day breakfast, served alongside strawberries and pink champagne.