As the feast of St Valentine approaches this weekend , I thought it might be appropriate to reflect on the origins and traditions surrounding this Day.
The origins of the feast of St Valentine , saint of lovers , are obscure, but they may be linked with the Roman festival of Lupercal , celebrated about 15th February , on the spot where the wolf was said to have suckled Romulus and Remus. Then men drew girls by lot, as partners. When Valentine was martyred about 270AD the early church attempted , with some success, to transfer the Lupercalia revels to the saint’s feast.
Girls sometimes believed they would marry the first bachelor they saw on February 14th and carefully avoided unsuitable candidates .
Present giving and lot drawing were the entertainments of the day and on the eve of St Valentines day and equal number of Maids and Bachelors would gather together and write their names on pieces of paper , they would then draw lots to find their valentine .
Red roses , often purchased as a symbol of love for valentines day , did not become popular until Louis XVI gave his Queen, Marie Antoinette red roses on February 14th .
Valentine Cards did not appear until the latter part of the 18th Century , at first homemade and then later stationers confections of tinsel, lace and flowers . In 19th century London , so many cards were sent on Valentines day , that postmen received an allowance for extra meals , to sustain them !
Some of the traditions have survived albeit in a different form , the ‘drawing of lots’ seems like the precursor to ‘speed dating’ , and red roses and valentines cards are still the biggest selling items for 14th February .