7 Year Tea Party Winners: Susan Craft's winner of her trilogy novels - The Chamomile, Laurel, and Cassia is: Lucy Reynolds, The winner of a copy of The Backcountry Brides is: Tammy Cordery, the winner of a silver quill charm is: Kathy Maher, Choice of one of three books by Carrie Fancett Pagels in paperback: Joy Ellis, A Bouquet of Brides Collection by Pegg Thomas winner is: Becky Smith, Janet Grunst's Selah-Award winning novel, A Heart Set Free, is: Sherry Moe.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Bay Leaves and Valentines

By Susan F. Craft

Valentine’s Day Eve, 1755

Two young women, clad in their night shifts, stood barefooted in their loft bedroom. A stubby candle anchored in a pile of wax on the corner of the nightstand illumined their golden hair plaited into long ropes draped across their shoulders.

“Do be quiet, you will give us away!” Heather admonished her twin sister.
Hannah pressed her fingers to her lips to stifle the giggles that threatened to wake their ever-vigilant father.

Heather’s eyes danced in spite of herself. “Hold out your hand,” she instructed, opening a handkerchief stuffed with bay leaves. “One, two, three, four, five,” she counted as she placed each leaf in her sister’s hand. “Five for you and five for me.”

Hannah placed her leaves on the nightstand and took a cloth-covered parcel from on top of the cornhusk mattress and unwrapped it to reveal two boiled eggs. “I removed the yolks, but I was not able to get much salt. Precious as it is. That won’t matter, will it?”

“I would not think such.” Heather took one of the eggs and ate it in two bites, then washed it down with water from a tin cup.

Hannah followed suit, and when they were finished, they sat on the side of the bed and grabbed their pillows.

“Sally said to pin one leaf at each corner of the pillow and one in the center. Then we should sprinkle the pillow with a little rose water.”

Hannah took a quick glance at the attic stairs and frowned. “This seems very pagan. Papa would be angry if he found us out.”

“But, dear sister, don’t you want to find out who you will marry?”

Hannah bobbed her head. “I-I. Well, yes.”

When they had finished pinning the leaves to their pillows and sprinkling the rose water, they placed them atop the bed. They slid underneath the covers, and after wiggling around to get comfortable, they held hands to complete the ritual.

"Good valentine, be kind to me. In dreams, let me my true love see," they repeated the words together.

Heather yawned. “Sweet dreams, Hannah.”

Willing herself to drift off to sleep, Hannah whispered, “I hope my dreams are of Edward.”

“We will know on the morrow.”

St. Valentine’s Day customs can trace their roots to the conventional belief of the Middle Ages that on February 14, halfway through the second month of the year, birds begin to choose their mates and songbirds warble the end of winter.

Chaucer penned a poem to honor the wedding of Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia, which took place in January 1382. Their marriage is generally regarded as one of the most successful and loving royal marriages of the Middle Ages.

“For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne's day
When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.”
Chaucer (1340/45-1400)

Other poets commemorating Valentine’s Day were Drayton and Herrick --

“Each little bird this tide
Doth chose her beloved peer,
Which constantly abide
In wedlock all the year.”
--Michael Drayton (1563-1631)--

“Oft have I heard both youth and virgin say
Birds choose their mates, and couples too, this day;
But by their flight I never can divine,
When I shall couple with my Valentine.”
--Robert Herrick (1591-1674)--

February 14 eventually became regarded as a day especially consecrated to lovers and deemed a proper occasion for the writing of romantic letters and the sending of love tokens. The literature of both France and England in the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries commonly contain references to such practices, with the earliest probably found in the 34th and 35th Ballades, a work written in French by the bilingual poet named John Gower (1327/30-1408), an English poet who may also have been in the merchant trade.

One of the most ancient of Valentine's Days rituals (dating from at least the Middle Ages and possibly earlier) was the practice of writing the names of young ladies on slips of paper and placing them within a bowl. The lady whose name was drawn by an eligible bachelor became his valentine, and he wore the name on his sleeve for one week. It is believed that the saying "to wear one's heart on one's sleeve” (meaning that it is easy for others to know the romantic inclination of an individual) may have originated from this custom.

It was once believed that if a woman noticed a robin flying overhead on Valentine's Day, it meant she would marry a sailor. If the woman saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man, but be very happy. If she spied a goldfinch, it was said that her husband would be a man of great wealth.

During the 1700s, a poplar custom was the one followed by Hannah and Heather.

Another 18th century custom was for a woman to write the names of sweethearts or men in the village on small scraps of paper which would be rolled into clay balls. The balls were dropped into a container of water. It was believed that the first clay piece to rise to the top was the young woman's true valentine.

Early Dutch settlers in the American colonies also celebrated a few Valentine's Day customs. The most popular tradition was the belief that the first man a girl laid eyes upon on Valentine's Day was to be her future spouse. As a result, many young women would arise in the morning, keeping their eyes shut until a friend or family member advised them. It was usually planned by the family to have a pleasing male awaiting the young woman's first gaze. One can only imagine how much fun it would have been to play a practical joke on these helpless girls!


  1. Thank you for sharing. I find Valentine's Day very intriguing. But what about te myth of the Valentine preis?? Or the ancient Roman festivals??

    1. Thank you for your comments. I find it an intriguing holiday too. When doing my research, I found so much material it made it difficult to chose what I would use in this post. Too much good info. I'll save St. Valentine and the Roman festivals for another post.

  2. Love this post about love throughout history. And the excerpt about Hannah and Heather was charming! I love your writer's voice!

    1. Thanks, Elaine. I like Hannah and Healther and I think I'll write them into a trilogy of novels I'm planning about SC backcountry women during the Rev War.

  3. I never was found of bay leaves... but perhaps have found a new use for them! Nice illustration of the custom. I love that they know their father would not approve and yet do it anyway. True to the spirit of young girls in any age!

    1. Hannah and Heather have been dancing around in my head for a couple of weeks, and I was so happy to be able to put them on paper. My 14-yearold granddaughter tells me not to say things out loud like "people dancing around in my head" or "making up conversations in my mind." She thinks people will not understand, but, I'm sure other writers understand. :-)

  4. What a fun post, Susan. I had no idea Valentine's Day customs dated back so far. These are great and of course, having a teenaged heroine for the first time ever in my WIP, my mind instantly leapt to how such a custom might be used in my story, especially that last one.

    1. Thanks, Lori. It was fun doing the research on this. I did't know about any of the customs. So glad you found something you will think about using in your novel. That's what's so great for me about this blog;I have found so much information shared here that lights up my imagination.

  5. The story was a fun illustration of a charming custom. I would have been afraid of being accused of pagan practices, too!

    1. Susan Craft said ...
      Hi, Chris. So good to see you here. I was surprised at the Valentines customs I ran across.

  6. How very interesting...thank you so much. I found the idea of putting names in a bowl and choosing the Valentine for the guy. And wearing her name on his sleeve....thats adorable!

    1. So glad you liked the post, Joy. I really enjoyed learning about Valentine's Day customs. It makes me smile when I see how such simple things brought people pleasure and laughter so long ago. They took joy in the small things, and I'm sorry we have lost that simplicity in modern times.


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