The Day the Birds
Began to Mate
The Europeans also believed that on February 14th the birds began to
choose their mates. In fact Chaucer, in his "Parlement of Foules,"
wrote: "For this was Seynt Valentine's Day when every foul cometh
ther to choose his mate."
John Donne wrote:
Hail Bishop Valentine! whose day this is;
All the air is thy diocese,
And all the chirping choristers
And other birds are thy parishioners:
Thou marryest ever year
The lyric lark and the grave whispering dove;
The sparrow that neglects his life for love,
The household bird with the red stomarcher;
Thous mak'st the blackbird speed as soon,
As doth the goldfinch or the halcyon . . .
This day more cheerfully than ever shine,
This day which might inflame thyself, old Valentine!
The Christian tradition of drawing names on St. Valentine's Eve
continued in England and other places. The tradition of birds choosing
their mates on St. Valentine's Day led to the idea that boys and girls
would do the same. Now when a youth drew a girl's name, he wore it on
his sleeve, and attended and protected her during the following year.
This made the girl his valentine and they exchanged love tokens
throughout the year. Later this was changed to only men giving love
tokens to females, usually without names but signed "with St.
Later, in France, both sexes drew from the
valentine box. A booked called Travels in England, written in 1698,
gives an account of the way it was done:
On St. Valentine's Eve an equal number of Maids and Bachelors get
together, each writes their true or some feigned name upon separate
billets, which they roll up and draw by way of lots, the Maids taking
the Men's billets, and the Men the Maids'; so that each of the young
Men lights upon a Girl that he calls his Valentine, and each of the
Girls upon a young Man which she calls hers. By this means each has
two Valentines--but the Man sticks faster to the Valentine that is
fallen to him than to the Valentine to whom he is fallen. Fortune
having thus divided the company into so many couples, the valentines
give balls and treats to their mistresses, wear their billets several
days upon their bosoms or sleeves, and this little sport ofen ends in
Love. This ceremony is practised differently in different Countries,
and according to the freedom or severity of Madame Valentine. This is
another kind of Valentine, which is the first young Man or Woman
chance throws in your way in the street, or elsewhere . . .
St. Valentine's Day was mentioned by Shakespeare. The poet, Drayton,
wrote verses entitled "To His Valentine," in which he
expressed the idea of the birds' mating on St. Valentine's Day.