Valentine’s Day Traditions

When I think of Valentine’s Day I always think of red construction paper, doilies, stickers, and hearts.  Our tradition was to make our Valentine’s Day cards instead of purchasing them. Pictures were sometimes cut from old cards and silly rhyming verses were created.

How many of you know why the tradition of Valentine’s Day was started? I know I didn’t. Accounts differ somewhat, but most people agree that Valentine’s Day started with Saint Valentine, who was a priest in Rome. He was jailed and executed for marrying couples during a ban on marriages decreed by the Emperor Claudius II. Valentine was executed on February 14, 269.

This corresponded with a holiday that honored Juno, the Roman Goddess of women and marriage and the festival of Lupercalia.  In 496, Pope Gelasius set aside February 14th as a holiday honoring Saint Valentine.

Valentine’s Day has been celebrated throughout history in various ways. In the Middle Ages, men and women drew names from a bowl to see who would be there valentine. They would wear these names on their sleeves for a week. That is where the expression, wearing your heart on your sleeve, comes from.  Interestingly, the selection of names from a bowl in order to “pair up” was also a tradition associated with the festival of Lupercalia.

As Christianity  emerged, old pagan practices were changed or renamed. At one point the names of saints were drawn from the bowl instead and the boys and girls were expected to draw inspiration from the chosen saint throughout the year. By the middle of the 18th century, written cards and gifts were exchanged.

In England several hundred years ago, many children dressed up as adults on Valentine’s Day. They went caroling from home to home. A tradition song was “good morning to you Valentine; Curl your locks as I do mine — Two before and three behind; good morning to you, Valentine.” That doesn’t seem very romantic to me.

In Wales wooden love spoons were carved and given as gifts.  Hearts, keys, and keyholes often decorated the spoons. These decorations were understood to mean “You unlock my heart!”  This was the basis for the expression “spooning.”

Another tradition was for young girls to write the names of her boyfriends on bits of paper.  The paper was rolled in clay and dropped in water. The first name to rise would be her true valentine.

Bay leaves were also useful among unmarried girls in finding a husband. They would pin 5 bay leaves to their pillow on the evening before Valentine’s Day. One leaf would be in the center and the others to each of the four corners. If they did this then their future husband would be revealed to them in their dreams.

Finally, from Italy, here is a custom I like. In the evening the couples go out to dinner. Then, gifts are given such as red roses, perfume, diamonds, or Baci Perugina.  Baci Perugina are small chocolate covered hazelnuts that contain a small piece of paper with a romantic poem in four languages.

This year, seek your own tradition.  It is a holiday to say “I love you, Je t’aime, Moi oiy neya, Ich liebe Dich, Ti amo, Saya cinta padamu, Mahal Kita, or Eg elskar deg.