Last month the blog looked at the Welsh Day for declaring love, St Dwynwen’s Day (25 January). Now it is the time to examine the time of year when all roses are red and violets are blue, when everyone’s a poet (whether it’s a budding Keats or a faded McGonagall) and the axis of the world swings on the discerning eye of your selected florist. Dear old Valentine’s Day (or February 14th for those love burnt cynics or those who just need a gentle reminder).
So where have the traditions associated with this day of love come from? The details are as amorphous as the feelings of the heart themselves. Some say it dates back to the days of the Roman Empire where February 14 was a day that honoured Juno and the following day began the Feast of Lupercalia, held to honour the she-wolf who weaned Romulus and Remus. The eve of the festival saw an amorous lucky dip take place, where the names of Roman girls were placed in jars and young men would draw their names from it. This sometimes led to a marriage and was a tradition that continued into the Middle Ages where men, drawing names from a bowl, would wear the chosen name on their sleeve for one week, giving rise to the adage of ‘wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve’. With the dawning of Christianity, two St Valentine’s were identified, one a bishop and one a priest and it is the latter who is discerned as our present day saint of love.
Several traditions in Wales are associated with the day. Wooden spoons were carved and given as gifts from the 17th century. They were decorated with a variety of objects, all with their own significance and there was a whole host of adornments that the carver could use to illustrate his desires. The art of the love spoon started to die out as the 19th century drew to a close and these are now used to celebrate and commemorate various events or as a souvenir more than its traditional purpose of courtship. The Lovespoon Workshop in Cold Blow continue to make wonderfully adorned spoons and are trying to bring the love spoon back to its rightful place as a symbol of something deeper than just a traditional memory or of a visit to Wales.
The sending of flowers blossomed at this time of year, with roses coming out as a firm favourite as a declaration of love. Poets ranging from Shakespeare to Robert Burns have placed the red rose in close proximity to a heartfelt affection. It was in the 19th century that the sending of Valentine cards reached popularity. Often a paid wordsmith conceived the poetry in a hand-made valentine. In his book Welsh Folk Customs, Trefor Owen details what he calls a “specimen of the true valentine”, a hand-made card from Narberth which illustrates the beautiful intricacy of the art. In its archive Tenby Museum and Art Gallery has a selection of machine-made valentines, mostly published by Raphael Tuck & Sons. Two were posted in Tenby on 13 February 1910, a third was sent “From an unknown admirer” and has no addressee, date or postmark. The introduction of the penny post in 1840 increased the circulation of Valentine cards and in 1935 a telegram form was distributed to post offices and it was recorded that 49,000 of these were sent on 14 February of that year. Commercialism had never been so blessed with sentiment!
And of course, let’s not forget, that as a leap year 2016 is especially romantic because traditionally the 29th of February is the day when love struck women may ask their men to marry them! No prettier place to come and pop the question than here in Tenby!