Valentine's Day Lore and Traditions:

"Good morrow! 'Tis St. Valentine's Day
All in the morning betime
And I a maid at the window
To be your valentine."

-Ophelia, in Hamlet

The Roman Catholic Church counts at least eight saints by the name of Valentine, three of them having February 14 as their feast day. The story goes like this:

The Roman emperor Claudius II decreed that soldiers could not marry. Around 269 AD, a certain priest or bishop named Valentine defiantly began marrying couples in secret (by some accounts, he banned marriage altogether). This of course did not sit well with Claudius, who had the saint beheaded.

Another tale tells us of a perhaps different Valentine who was seized by authorities during one of the periodic Roman persecutions of Christians. He developed a reputation, while in prison, for great wisdom in counseling the young, especially in matters of the heart. Further, he is said to have healed the blind daughter of the jailor -- and fell in love with the girl as well. Valentine, before he was executed, wrote and passed a short note on to her that read: "With love, from your Valentine". This was the first "Valentine."

Valentine was beheaded on February 14th, on the eve of the all important Roman festival called the Lupercalia. This was virtually an erotic carnival, one of the most ancient Roman festivals, which was celebrated every year in honour of Lupercus, the god of fertility. The festival was held every year, on the 15th of February, and goes back to the origins of the Romans as a shepherding people. The cult involved the sacrifice of goats and dogs (proverbial for their sexual energy) by noble young men (ditto) who then ate and drank heavily, clad themselves scantily in the skins of their victims, from which they also cut long, thin strips. Holding these thongs in their hands, they ran through the streets of the city, touching or lashing everyone they saw, especially women, who even used to come forward voluntarily for the purpose, since they believed that this ceremony rendered them fruitful, and procured them an easy delivery in childbearing. The goat-skin itself was called februum, the festive day dies februata

The second day of the Lupercalia celebrations was sacred to Juno Februata, Juno the Fructifier (some derive the title from febris, "of the fever [of love]"). On this day, more sedate Roman youths, not involved in the lupercalian cult, drew names of young ladies who were to be their romantic partners or "dates" not only for that evening, but the girl thus chosen would become their companions for the remainder of the year (more sensational accounts use more sordid terms, which may in fact be accurate for the more decadent phases of Roman history).  Although the lottery for women had been banned by the church as "heathen", the mid-February holiday celebration in commemoration of St. Valentine was still practiced by many Roman men who sought the tender affections of willing young ladies. Thus, it became a tradition to give the beloved and admired one handwritten messages of enamored and romantic intention, containing St. Valentine's named inscribed within. This served a double purpose, for to draw the name of a saint would require that the boy or girl would have to emulate that saint's qualities for at least one year. And instead of a "pagan" God to be chosen, the Church searched for a suitable substitute saint to patronize the day. So, Saint Valentine was to become the chosen saint.

Of course, there is a long history of baptizing pre-Christian practices; St. Gregory the Great advised his missionary to the pagan English, Saint Augustine of Kent, not to destroy the pagan temples, but to "go to the fanes" so that the converts "can assemble at the places which they are accustomed to come to."  Thus, the Church sought a way to contain all the youthful erotic energy within the bounds of right-thinking saints' cults. Yeah, right.

In the middle ages, folklore held that birds gathered on February 14 to choose their mates for the year. Certain birds, swans and doves or pigeons, for example, mate for life, and were special symbols of romantic devotion. Chaucer's "Parliament of Fowls" takes place on St. Valentine's day. This was before the separation of the words "bride" (meaning a young girl rather than a girl getting married) and "bird" (which still means "girl" in somewhat dated and rude British slang). The belief that birds chose their mates on Saint Valentine's Day came to America with the colonists and lasted throughout the nineteenth century in the Ozark hill country, where the people thought not only birds but rabbits began their mating season on February 14.
Valentines as we know them were first created by the French Duke of Orleans, Charles. They were termed "amorous addresses." At the end of the Battle of Agincourt in 1415, Charles was locked up in the Tower of London where in his free time he sent these "addresses" to his wife.

Wilt thou be mine? dear love, reply
Sweetly consent, or else deny;
Whisper softly, none shall know,
Wilt thou be mine, love? aye or no?
 (1415 )

Will the real St. Valentine please stand up?

Valentine's Day Customs:


Cupid, Luperci, and the Valentine's Day Saints

Origin of Valentine's Day

The History Channel weighs in:

warning: one of those pages that locks you in and won't let you out!

Valentine's lore and customs:

And what holiday would be complete without somebody denouncing it as a devilworshippers' conspiracy?

Valentine's Superstitions
On Valentine's Day, the first female name a man hears or reads, the first male name a woman hears or reads, will be the name of that person's future spouse.

If you see a squirrel on Valentine's Day, you will marry a stingy person.

If you see a goldfinch (or, some say, a goldfish) on Valentine's Day, you will marry a rich person.

What would folklore be without variants? One superstition was if a woman saw a robin flying in the sky on Valentine's Day, she would marry a sailor. If the woman saw a sparrow flying she would marry a poor man, but live a happy life. If a maiden spied a blackbird, she would marry a clergyman; a robin meant a sailor; a crossbill, a quarrelsome man. If she saw a flock of doves, she would have a happy marriage in all ways, but if she saw a wryneck she would suffer a lifetime as an old maid.

If you are awakened by a kiss on Valentine's day you will have good luck. It was also believed that you would see your lover's face in a dream on Valentine's Eve if you slept with a sprig of rosemary pinned inside your pillow.

If you find a glove on the road on Valentine's Day, your future beloved will have the other glove (s/he either lost the one you now hold, or has found its mate -- and the original owner is just out of luck, I suppose).

Another British folk belief was that to insure a dream of your husband to be was to place bay leaves sprinkled with rose water on your pillows on St. Valentine's Day Eve and recite this little prayer:

Good Valentine, be kind to me
And in my dreams
Let me my truelove see!

Some girls wrote the names of boys on slips of paper, wrapped them in clay, and dropped them into water. As the clay fell apart, the paper rose to the surface. The first name to reach the surface would be that of her future husband.

Another belief was that a woman was supposed to marry the first unmarried man she saw on Valentine's Day. It was also thought that if the woman went to the graveyard the eve of Valentine's Day and sang a specific song at midnight and ran around the church 12 times, she could see the image of the man she would marry.

 On Valentine's Day eve, if you put a silver coin under your pillow, your true love will propose to you by the end of the year.

To discover the name of the person you will marry, write the names of all the guys and gals you know, one name per hazelnut, and roast them over an open fire.  The first nut to pop, is the name of your future mate

If you tie a blue satin ribbon around your ankle, you'll be kissed by day's end.

Another superstition among young unmarried girls was that, if they pinned five bay leaves to their pillows on the eve before

Valentine's Day, one leaf to the center, and one to each corner then they would see their future husband in their dreams.

Think of five or six names of boys or girls you might marry.  As you twist the stem of an apple, recite the names until the stem comes off.  You will marry the person whose name you were saying when the stem fell off.

And finally, a couple of old poems for the day:

"This month bright Phoebus enters Pisces,
The maids will have good store of kisses,
For always when the fun comes there,
Valentine's Day is drawing near,
And both the men and maids incline
To chuse them each a Valentine;
And if a man gets one he loves,
He gives her first a pair of gloves;
And, by the way, remember this,
To seal the favour with a kiss.
This kiss begets more love, and then
That love begets a kiss again,
Until this trade the man doth catch,
And then he doth propose the match.
The woman's willing, tho' she's shy,
She gives the man this soft reply,
"I'll not resolve one thing or other,
Until I first consult my mother."
When she says so, `tis half a grant,
And may be taken for consent."

Poor Robin's Almanac (1757)

"Hail, Bishop Valentine! whose day this is;
All the air is thy diocese,
And all the chirping choristers
And other birds are thy parishioners:
Thou marryest every year
The lyric lark and the grave whispering dove;
The sparrow that neglects his life for love,
The household bird with the red stomach;
Thou mark'st the blackbird speed as soon,
As doth the goldfinch or the halcyon . . .
This day more cheerfully than ever shine
This day which might inflame thyself,
old Valentine! "
-John Donne (1614) in honor of the Saint Valentine's Day marriage of Princess Elizabeth to Frederick, Count Palatine of the Rhine.

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