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St Valentine's Day - 14th February
Spring may be just around the corner - but it still snows in February and dismal weather can make this, the shortest month, seem like the longest. However, we can at least forget the cold for the 14th when we can let the romantic in us run wild!
The origins of St Valentine's Day may be traced to the old Roman feast, Lupercalia, in February. A later festival custom was associated with the Christian bishop, Valentine, who was martyred on 14th February 271 A.D. In fact, there were two St Valentines martyred in Rome around that time, who have generally become confused. One was the Bishop of Terni, the other a priest or physician who is often invoked by sufferers of epilepsy.
The Roman Lupercalian fertility rites in mid-February were held in honour of the Goddess Februata Juno (or, some say, Pan). On that day, boys would draw by lot names of unmarried girls for courtship.
The 14th of February was probably also chosen for St Valentine's Day because in folklore it is the day on which birds choose their mates. The two bluebirds, which figure on so many Valentine cards, represent the two lovers bound together in spirit from this day on.
A Victorian game popular on St Valentine's Day is the Roman custom of drawing lots. For this game, an equal number of boys and girls would write their names on scraps of paper, which were then put into two bowls - they then took turns to draw a name from the dish. Thus each player received two Valentines, the one they themselves had drawn and one who had drawn their name. However, the man went with the girl who had chosen him and, thus paired, the party would begin with each couple remaining together until the end of the day, at least.
In the 18th century, lovers in the Lyme Regis area of Dorset would have their initials entwined and worked together into a piece of lace. Lyme Regis lace was of very fine quality and would have been quite slow to work. Many of the romances may well have been finished before the lace was!
The idea of sending sentimental cards to loved ones is a Victorian one and they developed it into a fine art, with ornate cards decorated with real flowers, lace, bird feathers and even hearts of spun glass. Cards declined in popularity for a while (perhaps because the taste for coarse, lewd cards became as pronounced in late Victorian times as it often seems today), but they are now enjoying a revival.
Today Valentine's Day is as popular as ever as the time for exchanging promises of love, in the form of anonymous greetings cards, chocolates, flowers or a heart-shaped cake or dessert. Why not make a batch of Valentine buns or biscuits each iced with the name of a suitor. Failing that, children (and adults) would love some heart-shaped biscuits for tea, iced with their own names or love-heart mottos such as 'Kiss Me Quick' or 'Be Mine'!