I am sure most of us have attempted to learn about the history of Valentine’s Day at some point in our lives. Whether it be from our early schooling, or a quick google search if we were feeling curious about how this holiday came about, it turns out that there is no actual answer.
A few different origins of the Valentine’s we know today have been touted by historians, the most likely being the Roman festival Lupercalia, which celebrated fertility and the beginning of spring, and featured the pairing of couples via lottery.
At the end of the 5th century the Pope replaced this festival with St. Valentine’s Day. There were possibly multiple Saints called Valentine, and there are legends about them: one such account claims that a “Valentine” was executed by the emperor Claudius for marrying lovers while Christian marriage was outlawed. This mysterious saint is responsible not just for protecting lovers but is the patron of beekeepers too.
Another popular theory is that Valentine’s Day is thought to celebrate the beginning of the mating season for birds. Popularised (and possibly invented) by the Middle English poet Geoffrey Chaucer, he wrote in his poem Parliament of Foules that St Valentine’s Day was the time “Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.” Thus a tradition of finding love was born, and continues to this day with a disproportionate number of marriage proposals taking place on 14 February.
Wherever it came from, it has established itself as a day of love and romance for hundreds of years, and expects to stay that way. Couples plan dates, get engaged, exchange gifts, and celebrate being in love. While it’s all very sweet and romantic, what is one meant to do if they are single on Valentine’s Day? For many people returning to St Andrews after a winter break full of the phrase “have you met your prince yet?”, Valentine’s Day can seem like a poor start to the semester, but it does no have to be.
I do not mean to deem spending the day moping, or eating copious amounts of chocolate unworthy or wrong, in fact I think both of those are noble pursuits and can be very cathartic if that is what you need this 14 February. But for those of us looking to celebrate the day of love, with or without romance, there are lots of other options.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated all over the world, and many countries have their own traditions for the hol-iday. Britain has some traditions of its own for single women that may or may not be worth a try. One such tradition is mentioned in Hamlet by Ophelia. “Good morrow! ‘Tis St. Valentine’s Day/ All in the morn-ing betime, /And I a maid at your window,/ To be your valentine!” She re-fers to the belief that the first man a woman sees on Valentine’s Day, or at least someone that looks like him, will marry her within the year. Girls used to wake up early and stand in their windows to wait for men to walk by.
While this seems both practical and enjoyable, it seems like a few women seeing the same man walking past would be an issue. This could, if you think about it, lead to some rather unsavoury sights not in keeping with the day’s theme.
Instead, do as unmarried women in Britain used to do. Pin bay leaves to the corners of your pillows and eat salted egg whites on Valentine’s Day eve. With any luck, you will dream of your future husbands that same night!
Ladies who need to decide between a few lovers could write their names and wrap them in clay balls to drop in water. Whichever paper floated up first was the man they would marry. While it is fun to look back and maybe try out these traditions, they centralize around single women finding their husbands. Men, I am sure, could try these same techniques, but there is no telling if they would find the same results. Valentine’s Day, however, does not have to centre around romantic love, as there are plenty of types of love to celebrate come the 14th.
One can always spend the day practising a little self-love and care. There is nothing wrong or embarrassing about spending time by ourselves, especially if it is something you enjoy, or need to do to recharge. Take a day off from work, do a favourite activity, eat a favourite food, set up a little date for yourself with some sweets and a movie (maybe featuring a celebrity crush?) or read a book you have been wanting to read but not had time for.
I personally enjoy re-reading books over again. On days when I want to relax, I prefer to enjoy an old favourite story rather than starting a new one.
Seeing as though the person we spend the most time with in the world is ourselves, it is nice to show oneself a little appreciation once in a while, and Valentine’s can be that day. You can call your family and loved ones that you will not see for a while and tell them you love and appreciate them. Something Valentine’s Day has in common with many other holidays is it gives us a chance to take stock on all we have to be grateful for.
Of course, being single on Valentine’s Day does not mean that you have to spend it alone. It can be a day to celebrate all the love we give and receive in friendship. One of the most classic ideas for single women on
Valentine’s Day is to celebrate Galentine’s Day in-stead. This holiday was first celebrated on the tele-vision show Parks and Recreation, and actually falls on 13 February. It cel-ebrates something that maybe does not get enough attention or celebration throughout the year, but especially on 14 February: the platonic love that exists in female friendships. It is celebrated on the TV show with brunch (which does sound fun), but celebrating love and friendship on a girls night out or in seems like a good way to spend a Friday evening to me, which is when Valentine’s Day falls this year.
The holiday has spread since the 2010 episode and increased in popularity, perhaps addressing a need for people to acknowledge the importance of friendship in their own lives. The ideas behind Galentine’s day can apply to anyone, not exclusively groups of women (you heard the term PALentines day here first!) but in fact to anyone who loves their friends. Your version of Valentine’s Day with friends can and should include every friend who wants to celebrate. You can plan a gift exchange, get brunch together, or just hang out.
Of course, for those who enjoy a night of revelry, Valentine’s can actually be a perfect opportunity to throw a party. If you want something fun to do, it is likely that your friends do too, so why not spend the night celebrat-ing all together with cheap prosecco, cheesy music, and heart-shaped paper decorations. A unique Scottish tradition for Valentine’s Day parties is to have equal numbers of men and women place their names in two sep-arate hats. Each woman pulls out a man’s name while each man pulls a woman’s name. If a couple pulls matching names they spend the rest of the evening together. If they do not pull matching names, the couples are based on who the women pull. Why there are two hats I am not sure, but any iteration of this game would be a fun addition to a Valentine’s Day party to meet new people or spend time with friends you might not have.
If you are feeling a little moodier you could throw an anti-Valentine’s Day party. This would support the criticism of the consumerist aspects of the holiday, which turn its focus to-wards making profits and away from love.
One special thing about being sin-gle on Valentine’s Day is that there are no expectations for how the day should go, no pressure to plan the perfect date or buy the perfect gift. With no expectations for romance, drama, or theatrics the day will be whatever you decide it to be, whether that is spending it alone, with friends, or ignoring that it’s Valentine’s Day at all.
I will probably spend my own Valentine’s Day doing a combination of the activities above and enjoying all the opportunities Valentine’s Day gives me to be grateful for the love in my life. I will celebrate while wear-ing pink, baking heart-shaped things, playing rom-coms in the background, and spending time with friends. Valentine’s Day may be intended for romance, but it is certainly not the only thin to celebrate.