February 14: Valentine's Day

10th February 2006 at 00:00
February 14: Valentine's Day

Subsequently renamed after a third century bishop and martyr, this day was originally a Roman festival of romantic love.

Outline script The Romans called it Lupercalia. To celebrate this festival, you needed a large bowl. In it were placed pebbles, marbles or small stones. On each was the name of an unmarried young person. In the way that FA Cup ties are now decided, the pebbles (or "lots" as they were known) were drawn out, one by one, and paired up.

In Roman times, couples were thus chosen "by lottery". In 496, Pope Gelasius outlawed Lupercalia, renaming it Valentine's Day but retaining the lottery, aware of Romans' love of games of chance. The "love lottery"

survived in Britain until the 18th century, when couples looked on it as "a good omen of their being man and wife afterwards".

Another common belief was that the first man seen by any woman on this day would be her Valentine, whether she liked him or not. In 1662, Samuel Pepys' wife went about holding her hands in front of her eyes in case she saw one of the painters decorating her house. Yet another superstition maintained that girls would dream of their future husband on Valentine's Eve. They believed their dreams would be more romantic if, at bedtime, they ate a boiled egg (including the shell), having first replaced the yolk with salt.

The oldest surviving Valentine's card was sent in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was a prisoner in the Tower of London. In 1797, a publisher issued The Young Man's Valentine Writer full of sentimental verses for the young lover to copy if he was unable to compose his own. The introduction of the penny post in 1840 ensured the popularity of Valentine cards. Nowadays approximately 85 per cent of all Valentines are purchased by women.

Follow-up Simulate the Roman lottery. Compose a modern-day "Young Man'sWoman's Valentine Writer" or let pupils search poetry anthologies for quotations for Valentine cards.

A description of Lupercalia is at www.crewsnest.vispa.comvalentine.htm

Fifty facts about Valentine's Day can be found at www.ok50.comrelationshipstop50tipsValentinesDayFacts.asp Encourage pupils to compile their own lists of 50 facts about other subjects.

DAVID SELf

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