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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;
    Celebrations
    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. Valentine's Love."

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.

      Each little bird this tide
      Doth choose her beloved peer,
      Which constantly abide
      In wedlock all the year.