Rites and Superstitions

The origins of the most popular customs associated with Saint Valentine's Day almost certainly trace their roots to a conventional belief generally accepted in England and France during the Middle Ages that on February 14 (halfway through the second month of the year), the birds began choose their mates. The reason for this assumption is somewhat clouded, but may be related to the fact that the first songbirds which traditionally warble after a blustery winter tend to debut in mid-February. One of the earliest written examples of this belief was penned by Geoffrey Chaucer (1340/45-1400), an English poet and vintner, in his "Parliament of Fowls," the literal meaning of which is "Meeting of Birds." Chaucer's poem was penned to honor the grand wedding of Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in January of 1382 and is generally regarded as one of the most successful and loving royal marriages of the Middle Ages...indeed, Richard and Anne rank among the leading romantic couples in history. This custom was also recorded by Michael Drayton (1563-1631), an English poet from Warwickshire, in his poem entitled "To His Valentine" and again by Robert Herrick (1591-1674), generally considered to be the greatest of the Cavalier poets...English poets associated with Charles I and his exiled son whose works embodied the life and culture of upper-class, pre-Commonwealth England with courtly verses of beauty, love and loyalty.

Love Birds

"For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate."

--Chaucer--

"Each little bird this tide
Doth chose her beloved peer,
Which constantly abide
In wedlock all the year."

--Drayton--

"Oft have I heard both youth and virgin say
Birds choose their mates, and couples too, this day;
But by their flight I never can divine,
When I shall couple with my Valentine."

--Herrick--

Thus, February 14 eventually became regarded as a day especially consecrated to lovers and deemed a proper occasion for the writing of romantic letters and the sending of love tokens. The literature of both France and England in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries commonly contain references to such practices, with the earliest probably found in the 34th and 35th Ballades, a work written in French by the bilingual poet named John Gower (1327/30-1408), an English poet who may also have been in the merchant trade.

In Great Britain during the 1700s, one very popular custom on the Eve of Valentine's Day, was for ladies to pin five bay leaves sprinkled with rose water to their pillows...one leaf pinnned to the center and one to each corner. Eggs with salt replacing the removed yokes were then consumed before retiring for the evening. Before going to sleep, the lady would recite the following little prayer: "Good valentine, be kind to me; In dreams, let me my true love see." If this charm worked, then the lady would see her future husband in her dreams.

In Great Britain, a woman would write the names of their sweethearts on small scraps of paper which would be placed on clay balls. The balls were dropped into water with the belief that whichever scrap of paper surfaced first would be the name of the man destined to be the future husband.

In England, centuries ago, children would dress up as adults and go singing from home to home. One such verse was:

"Good morning to you, valentine;
Curl your locks as I do mine--
Two before and three behind.
Good morning to you, valentine."

An old English custom was for people to call out, "Good morning, 'tis St. Valentine's Day." The individual who succeeded in being the first to say this then expected to receive a present from the one to whom it was said.

By tradition, a young girl was supposed to eventually marry the first eligible male she met on Valentine's Day.

Traditionally, if a young female is curious enough...and brave enough...she can conjure-up the appearance of her future spouse by visiting a graveyard at midnight on the Eve of Saint Valentine's Day and singing a prescribed chant while running around the church twelve times.

In Wales, wooden love spoons would be carved and given as gifts. Favored decorations for the spoons were hearts, keys and keyholes...the decorations meaning "You unlock my heart!"

One of the most ancient of Valentine's Days rituals (dating from at least the Middle Ages and possibly earlier) was the practice of writing the names of young ladies on slips of paper and placing them within a jar or bowl. The lady whose name was drawn by an eligible bachelor became his valentine and he wore the name on his sleeve for one week. It is believed that the saying "to wear one's heart on one's sleeve" (meaning that is is easy for others to know the romantic inclination of an individual) may have originated from this custom.

It was once believed that if a woman noticed a robin flying overhead on Valentine's Day, it meant she would marry a sailor. If the woman saw a sparrow, the would marry a poor man, but be very happy. If she spied a goldfinch, it was said that her husband would be a man of great wealth.

In some countries, a young woman may receive a gift of clothing from a prospective suitor. If the gift is kept, then it means she has accepted his proposal of marriage.

If an individual thinks of five or six names considered to be suitable marriage partners and twists the stem of an apple while the names are being recited, then it is believed the eventual spouse will be the one whose name was recited at the moment the stem broke.

If an apple is cut in half, the number of seeds found inside the fruit will be an indication of the number of children that individual will have.

If a dandelion which has gone to seed is picked and an individual blows the seeds into the wind, the number of seeds which remain on the stem indicates the number of children that person will have.

In the Fourteenth Century, a sweetheart was chosen for the day by lot. Messages sent between these randomly chosen pairs are believed by some sources to be the forerunner of the modern day Valentine card.

In "The Golden Bough" authored by Sir James Frazer, it is written that during a pre-Lenten celebration in the town of Épinal in the Vosges region of France, bonfires were kindled and young townsfolk went from door-to-door pairing-up couples who were then forced to participate in a mock marriage. Later required to walk arm-in-arm around the fire, these couples exchanged gifts intended as ransom or redemption. The gifts were known as féchenots and féchenottes...or Valentines.

To be awoken by a kiss on Valentine's Day is considered lucky.

For a lady to sleep with a sprig of rosemary pinned inside the pillow on the Eve of Valentine's Day was once thought to encourage dreams of a future sweetheart's face.

In Britain and Italy, some unmarried women would rise before sunrise on Valentine's Day and stand by the window watching for a man to pass. It was believed that the first man seen...or someone who looked very much like him...would be their husband within a year.

In Demmark, it is customary to send pressed white flowers called snowdrops to friends.

Symbols associated with Valentine's Day include: lace; love knots; lovebirds and doves; hearts, hands and "X"s.

Lace, frills and ribbons have long been associated with the concept of romance, originating from the days of chivalry when a knight rode into battle sporting a ribbon or scarf presented to him by his "fair lady." Lace has been used throughout history in the making of women's handkerchiefs. In centuries gone by, if a lady dropped her handkerchief, a man might pick retrieve it for her and it was not unusual for a lady to intentionally drop her handkerchief into the path of an attractive man in order to encourage his attention. The literal definition of the word "lace" is to "snare" or "noose."

Love knots...consisting of a series of winding and interlacing loops which have no beginning and no end...are traditional symbols of everlasting love. Love knots were customarily made from ribbon or drawn on paper and presented to sweethearts.

Lovebirds...small parrots with colorful plumage found in Africa...are so named because they tend to sit closely together in pairs. Doves...common urban birds, shy and gentle by nature, with a distinctive "cooing" call...symbolize loyalty, fidelity and love since they mate for life and share in the nurturing of their young. The dove was a bird sacred to Venus and other cultural love deities...it was once thought that to dream of a dove was a promise of happiness and wishes made when the first dove appeared in Springtime were once considered to be assured of coming true.

It was formerly believed that the heart was the core of all human emotions. Accordingly, the giving of a heart signified the giving of everything. Although the Ancients were unware that the heart pumps blood through the circulatory system, they did know that a heart would beat faster when an individual was excited or upset and thus, thought the heart was the center of feelings. Throughout the ages, it has remained a symbol of love and the ancient belief linger still in such sayings as: "It does my heart good," "I'm broken-hearted," and "sick at heart."

The hands of a lady has been a favorite valentine decoration for many years and is thought to depict desirable feminine qualities. The beauty of the image is often enhanced by the addition of a frilled cuff and/or a jeweled ring on the third finger. Clasped hands are said to represent those of Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert...the symbol of friendship between their respective countries of England and Germany.

The tradition of using an "X" to represent a kiss began with the Medieval practice of allowing those who could not write to sign documents with an "X". This was done prior to documents being witnessed and the signer would place a kiss upon the "X" to indicate sincerity. Thus, the letter "X" came to be synonymous with a kiss until, with the passage of time, this letter of the alphabet was commonly used at the end of correspondence to indicate a kiss.

Roses

The rose, undoubtedly the most popular flower in the world, speaks of love and has been the traditional choice of sweethearts during every century. Precisely how it came to be the universal symbol of love and beauty is unclear. However, the rose was a sacred flower of Venus, Roman Goddess of Love, and the color red is associated with strong emotions. The rose is symbolic of both peace and war...both love and forgiveness. Interestingly, the letters of "rose" when rearranged, form the word "Eros"...God of Love. In terms of the sentiments expressed by the different colors of the rose, the commonly accepted meanings are:

Coral -- Desire
Lavender -- Enchantment and Uniqueness
Orange -- Fascination
Peach -- Modesty, Gratitude, Admiration and Sympathy
Pink (Pale) -- Grace, Joy and Happiness
Pink (Dark) -- Thankfulness, Friendship and Admiration
Red -- Love, Respect and Courage
Deep Red -- Beauty and Passion
White -- Innocence, Purity, Secrecy, Silence, Reverence, Humility and (according to some sources) True Love
Yellow -- Joy, Friendship, Jealousy, Hope and Freedom
Black -- Farewell

Red/White -- Unity or Engagement
Yellow/Orange -- Passionate Thoughts
Yellow/Red -- Congratulations

Rosebud -- Beauty, Youth and a Heart Innocent of Love
Red Rosebud -- Purity and Loveliness
White Rosebud -- Girlhood

Single Red Rose in Full Bloom -- "I Love You"
One Dozen Red Roses -- "I Love You"
Tea Roses -- "I'll Remember Always"

Violets

Another flower particularly associated with Valentine's Day is the violet, which has a special connotation since legend states that violets grew outside the window of the jail where Saint Valentine was imprisoned. In the language of flowers, the violet is symbolic of faithfulness while a violet stone...the amethyst...is also considered lucky for sweethearts.

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