The charming tradition of sending Valentine’s Day cards and flowers to loved ones has a racier origin than you’d imaging, says (a blushing) Charlotte Tomb!
It’s still far too early for my flowers to make an appearance, though it won’t be too long and there are a few brave souls showing their faces already: the early daffodils, snowdrops and hellebores.
So I thought I’d do some research and find out a little more about St Valentines Day and how it came about.
Many holidays and traditions that we celebrate today seem to have their roots planted in Pagan history.
St Valentine’s Day seemingly (as there appears to be conflicting views) has its beginnings in a Pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia (‘the god of fertility and flocks’) which was celebrated in Ancient Rome between the 13th and 15th February.
It is said that the festival involved people running naked through the streets and spanking young
maidens on the bottom with leather whips – apparently this was to aid fertility (really? Not in Dorset and definitely not in February!).
As with many of the old Pagan festivals, the early Christian church adopted/absorbed/ smothered (take your pick) the celebrations and made them their own (not to the extent that the Romans did, and readers may well have mixed views on this).
In the centuries that followed, two early Christian martyrs met their grisly ends on the 14th February and it is thought that both their names were Valentinus, the Latin for Valentine.
In 496AD Pope Gelasius declared the 14th February as ‘St Valentines Day’ and it became a Christian feast day.
’My sweet Valentine’
In 1382 Chaucer celebrated the engagement of the young King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia on St Valentine’s Day. And another reference is from an inmate of the Tower of London, where a Duke referred in a letter to his wife ‘as my very sweet Valentine’.
By 1601 William Shakespeare mentions Valentine in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet, and by 1797 it was common practice for sweethearts to pass love notes to each other. With the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 by the Royal Mail it became not only affordable but possible to
send cards anonymously with pre-printed verses and pretty pictures not too dissimilar to the cards of today. Then racier cards began to appear which shocked the prudish Victorians.
That’s more than enough history. – back to flowers where I am on safer ground.
Don’t spend the earth for your Valentine
There are British flowers available to buy for your Valentine – and they won’t cost the earth (literally), unlike the rather pitiful foreign red roses flown thousands of miles around the world.
They are a little harder to find, but a good local place to start is The Dorset Flower Company near Dorchester who offer amazing bunches of flowers (see image), plus total transparency as to where your flowers come from: all bouquets come with a card giving the provenance of every stem.
The best way to find a reliable local British flower seller is to use the Flowers from the Farm website, which shows growers and florists who (like myself and The Dorset Flower Co) only use British grown flowers.
by Charlotte Tombs – Northcombe Flowers