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Eating eggshells and other Valentine’s Day silliness

By Lauren Appelwick, Blog Editor


Raise your hand if you celebrate Valentine’s Day! OK…no one… Raise your hand if you like fun facts and history! Yay! Everyone! No matter how you feel about this holiday (or non-holiday, as it might be), I think the following might be of interest. Let’s start off with an excerpt from The Oxford Companion to the Year:

Valentine (3rd c.), martyr. In the fourth century, two martyrs of the name were honoured on the Via Flamninia, one at the second milestone, later identified as a Roman priest martyred on 14 February 269, the other at the sixty-third, near Terni, where he was later said to have been bishop. The two martyrs may be the same man, the bishop’s cult having spread from Terni to the capital. They have no obvious connection with lovers, though in 1998 the Irish tourist board, Bord Fáilte, wishing to promote Dublin as the international capital of romantic love, asserted that ‘St Valentine’ had conducted weddings for Roman soldiers against an order of Claudius II (268-70) forbidding them to marry (such a prohibition had been imposed by Augustus but repealed by Septimius Severus) and when condemned to death cured the judge’s daughter of blindness and sent her a letter signed ‘your Valentine’. The tradition that birds began to sing about this time gave rise in the late fourteenth century to a belief, attested by Chaucer and contemporaries both English and French, that they chose their mates on 14 February; the association of this time of year with the spring renewal of fertility goes back to the Roman festival of Lupercalia (15 Feb). This amorous behaviour passed from birds to human beings; in modern times it has been exported to other countries, even Japan, where it has mutated into a requirement for women to give chocolates to men, in particular their superiors at work. However, in 1994 the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church, observing that Valentine was a Western saint not recognized in the Eastern calendar, denounced his recently imported day and declared that if such celebrations of love were needed they should take place on St Hyacinthus’ day (3 July); and in Germany, where St Andrew is the patron of lovers, Sankt Velten is a euphemism for the Devil.

Now, how to choose a valentine? Historically, one might choose a valentine for the coming year in one of three ways: according to true desire, by the drawing of names on 13 Feb, or as the first person of the opposite sex encountered on the day. Thereby, the exchange of love-tokens became obligatory in some places, and the traditions of name-drawing evolved into complex rituals. In the passage below, one elaborate ritual is described by an anonymous girl dubbed “Arabella Whimsey” in the London paper The Connoisseur (20 Feb. 1755).

Last Friday…was Valentine’s Day; and I’ll tell you what I did the night before. I got five bay-leaves, and pinned four of them to the four corners of my pillow, and the fifth to the middle; and then if I dreamt of my sweetheart, Betty said we should be married before the year was out. But to make it more sure, I boiled an egg hard, and took out the yolk, and filled it up with salt; and when I went to bed, eat it shell and all, without speaking or drinking after it…We also wrote our lovers names upon bits of paper, and rolled them up in clay, and put them into water; and the frist that rose up, was to be our Valentine. Would you think it?–Mr. Blossom was my man: and I lay a-bed and shut my eyes all the morning, till he came to our house; for I would not have seen another man before him for all the world.

But this is modern day–you say–I would never go through so much trouble! Nor would I, and I rarely find myself giving even platonic, silly paper valentines after the I’m-bananas-about-you debacle of 1992. (That is a story for another time.) But perhaps you’re feeling festive anyway, and will appreciate the following math trick:

Happy…erm…Monday, everyone!

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