Saint Valentine is one of the few festivals which have increased in popularity in recent decades, and it shows no sign of going out of fashion. Despite having an undisputed history spanning at least 600 years, the origins of the festival are still obscure, and the only certainty is that it has nothing to do with the saint from which it gets its name. The dominant feature has always been, as today, the giving of gifts, letters, or cards to a lover, but there have been widespread variations within the basic framework. There have also been other customs on the day: children visited their neighbours and sang special rhymes in exchange for pennies; special buns were made and sold; and, not surprisingly, Valentine’s Day was one of the times when love-divination procedures were thought particularly effective.
[©Steve Roud: The English Year. Penguin 2006]