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Valentine's Day in Britain - History and Folklore


Old British Valentine Card
Photo © Collectibles@aboutguide.com

'How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach.'

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

What is Valentine's Day?

Valentine was a Roman priest put to death on February 14th, AD273 for refusing to give up his Christian faith. The day coincided with the Roman Spring festival, Lupercalia, held in honor of the gods Pan and Juno. Lupercalia was believed to be one of the most important festivals in the Roman calendar, and was brought to Britain by the Romans. The early Christian church frowned upon the festival but unable to prevent people from celebrating it, linked it with the name of St. Valentine, who became the Patron Saint of Lovers.

Folk Tales and Customs

There are many folk tales and customs surrounding the celebration of Valentine’s Day in the UK. Today it is a more commercial venture than was seen in Britain in the Middle Ages when February 14th was believed to be the day birds paired up ready for the mating season.

One of the first records of Valentine’s Day linked with romance was a poem by Chaucer in 1382. The poem celebrated the anniversary of – the 14-year old - the King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia. And, the first Valentine was believed to be a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife whilst being held in the Tower of London. I suspect they didn’t have a romantic dinner for two that evening.

In Wales carved wooden lovespoons were given as gifts on February 14th. Hearts, keys and padlocks were favorite decorations on the spoons, symbolizing an 'unlocking' of the heart.
More history of Valentine's Day

Valentine Cards

The earliest known Valentine card was sent in 1477 in the form of a letter between Margery Brew to John Paston in Norfolk with the printed Valentine appearing in the late 18th century. The popularity of the sending and receiving cards grew alongside the improvement in postal services and methods of printing to the point in the 1830’s where postmen needed refreshments to help them with the unprecedented number of cards they had to deliver.
More about Valentine's Cards

In British folklore there are many ‘spells’ to be cast, rhymes to be sung and rituals to perform to supposedly find your one true love. Two popular ones are bay leaves on the pillow before sleep and repeating 'Dear Guardian Angel, let me have what I so earnestly do crave, a Valentine imbued with love, who will both true and constant prove.' before sleeping and your one true love will appear in your dreams. Or, to attract love in to your life, scratch 'All my love come to me' into a white candle using a thorn from a white rose bush. Watch the candle burn down and picture your love coming to you.


The sending of flowers on Valentine's Day is reputed to be the busiest day of the year for florists. But there is a language associated with which flowers to send. Red roses declare true love, but a white rose means I Love You Not! Yellow depicts jealousy with pink for innocent love. Red Tulips are a declaration of powerful love and Snowdrops bring hope. So check first to see what the flowers you are sending carry the correct message.
The Language of Flowers.

Food on Valentine's Day

If florists find Valentine's Day their busiest of the year, restaurants to benefit from all those romantic dinners for two. A more open declaration is to cook for your loved one. There's no need to make it a stressful event with these tips and hints on creating a romantic dinner. And, if you are stuck for ideas here are some menu ideas.

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