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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

February: The Month of Love

by Shannon Donnelly

Valentine’s Day was a saint’s day long before it became associated with greeting cards and chocolates—and romance. But even with the romantic connection it has today, not that many romances use a Valentine’s setting.

Silver Links, one of my Regency Novellas, is placed right around Valentine’s—partly because the editor asked for the connection, but also because it worked very well into the plot (the heroine tries to arrange a romantic Valentine’s event for her husband, to help patch a rocky bit, but of course it all goes wrong). Maybe that’s why Valentine’s isn’t used much in romances—a romance is all about the rocky bits of a relationship, instead of the perfect day we all hope to have on Feb 14.

Traditionally in England, spring began on St Valentine's Day (February 14th), the day on which birds chose their mates. Given England’s usual weather that seems optimistic thinking to try and put spring so early, but perhaps it was the hint of warmth coming that encouraged both people and birds to look ahead. In parts of Sussex, Valentine’s Day was even called 'the Birds' Wedding Day'.

For the Celtic year, winter ended February 1 with the celebration of Imbolc or Oimelc. This was the time when ewes begin to lamb, and life began to return. For the ancient Celts, this was the celebration for Brigid (also Brigit, Brighid or Bride), the Light-Bringer, one of the main Celtic goddesses. She was strong enough to survive and be transformed by early Catholics into Saint Bridget, who was celebrated, along with the Virgin Mary, on February 2, Candlemas Day. (Yes, the days are getting longer again and that’s always a reason to celebrate.)

Many other English traditions and superstitions came to be associated Valentine’s day, and some of these were in place in the early 1800’s, the time of the English Regency :
  • The first man an unmarried woman saw would be her future husband (can you imagine what this would do to try and arrange your schedule to make this work out as you wished?).
  • If the names of all a girl's suitors were written on paper and wrapped in clay and the clay put into water, the piece that rose to the surface first would contain the name of her husband-to-be.  (And it seems to me you could rig this with the right type of clay.)
  • If a woman saw a robin flying overhead, she would marry a sailor. If she saw a sparrow, she would marry a poor man and be very happy. If she saw a goldfinch, she would marry a rich man. (No mention, however, of if she’d be happy with the rich man.)
  • In the Middle Ages, young men and women drew names from a bowl to see who their Valentine would be. They would wear these names on their sleeves for one week (which just sounds an awful fuss to me).
  • In Wales, wooden love spoons were carved and given as gifts. (These spoons are beautiful—and still sold in Wales.)
February is also the time of Shrove Tuesday (the last day before Lent begins on Ash Wednesday). Traditionally, Shrove Tuesday was the day to indulge, so pancakes were a traditional food (the butter, fat and eggs might all be things to give up for the forty days of Lent). So, after romance comes indulgence, and then you must give up some things. Hmmm—that sounds about right for any romance, so perhaps February is the month of love.

Do you have any special Valentine’s traditions? (Personally, I love those candy hearts with message—so very non-historical, but they have deep roots in my childhood.)

Shannon Donnelly Bio
Shannon Donnelly’s writing has won numerous awards, including a RITA nomination for Best Regency, the Grand Prize in the "Minute Maid Sensational Romance Writer" contest, judged by Nora Roberts, RWA's Golden Heart, and others. Her writing has repeatedly earned 4½ Star Top Pick reviews from Romantic Times magazine, as well as praise from Booklist and other reviewers, who note: "simply superb"..."wonderfully uplifting"....and "beautifully written."

Her Regency romances can be found as ebooks on all formats, and with Cool Gus Publishing, and include a series of four novellas.

She also has out the Mackenzie Solomon, Demon/Warders Urban Fantasy series, Burn Baby Burn and Riding in on a Burning Tire, and the Urban Fantasy, Edge Walkers. Her work has been on the top seller list of and includes Paths of Desire, a Historical Regency romance.
She is the author of several young adult horror stories, and computer games. She lives in New Mexico with two horses, two donkeys, two dogs, and only one love of her life. Shannon can be found online at,, and twitter/sdwriter.


Anonymous said...

I loved hearing about all the traditions. Probably due in large part to the military, I can count on one hand the number of times in 32 years my husband and I have been together on Valentine's Day. We gave up on it a long time ago.

Kadee McDonald said...

Lots of interesting details here. Thanks. Could that tradition from the Middle Ages be where the expression "wearing your heart on your sleeve" comes from?

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