Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Since British Isles Friday falls on Valentine’s Day this year, I explored the history, traditions, and modern customs in the UK and Ireland.
Geoffrey Chaucer, author of The Canterbury Tales, is generally credited as the first to link the saint day for Valentine to romantic love with these words from Parlement of Foules, published in 1382:
For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate.
William Shakespeare gave Ophelia a speech about Valentine’s Day in Hamlet, although I’m not sure I find it particularly romantic, especially given how things turn out for her:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Then up he rose, and donn’d his clothes,
And dupp’d the chamber-door;
Let in the maid, that out a maid
Never departed more.
The roots of “Roses are red…” appeared in The Faerie Queene by Edmund Spenser from 1590.
She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.
Like many holidays, it was the British Victorians who established the traditions that we value in modern times.
Mailing Valentine’s cards became more popular after 1840 with the invention of the modern adhesive postage stamp, making the whole enterprise less complicated and cheaper. The first stamp is called the Penny Black.
Heart-shaped boxes of chocolate candy were invented by the British confectionary Cadbury’s, in 1868 — a gift for British Victorian sweethearts.
The Catholic Church has largely let go of the St. Valentine observation due to a muddled history and so many saints named Valentine to choose from. But, some of the modern significance continues in churches in the British Isles. The Catholic bishops of England and Wales established, in 2016, a Valentine’s Day novena prayer to support single people who are seeking a spouse. Dublin is the home to the Shrine of St. Valentine at Whitefriar Street Church. Special services are held each year on February 14 that include a Blessing of Rings for couples about to be married.
The liturgy of the Anglican Church includes a Feast for St. Valentine with an optional rite to renew marriage vows.
How will you observe Valentine’s Day? I’m afraid that we’re hopelessly practical and find cards a waste and candy too much of a temptation. This post is probably all of the effort that will go into Valentine’s Day at our house. I hope some of you have better stories to share.