St Valentine's Day is celebrated with gaiety, enthusiasm and charm in Britain. Just as in many other countries, people in Britain express love for their beloved on this day by presenting them flowers, cards, chocolates and other special gifts. Different regions of the country have their specific traditions to celebrate Valentine's Day but one uniform custom is the singing of special songs by children. These children are rewarded with gifts of candy, fruit or money. In some regions delectable Valentine buns are baked with caraway seeds, plums or raisins.
Penning of verses is another extremely popular tradition of Valentine's Day. Weeks before the festival tabloids and magazines publish sonnets and verses to commemorate St Valentine's Day. The custom owes its origin to the poets of Britain who have penned the majority of the best-loved romantic verses associated with Saint Valentine.
Customs associated with Valentine's Day had their origin in the popular belief held by people in Great Britain and France during 14th and 15th century that birds begin to mate on February 14, halfway through the month of February. Lovers, therefore found St Valentine's Day an appropriate time to send love letters and gifts to beloved. Romantic image of the festival was further established by English and French poets and litterateurs who drew parallel between mating of birds and St Valentine's Day. In the Paston Letters, Dame Elizabeth Brews writes thus about a match she hopes to make for her daughter (spelling modernize), addressing the favored suitor:
And, cousin mine, upon Monday is Saint Valentine's Day and every bird chooses himself a mate, and if it like you to come on Thursday night, and make provision that you may abide till then, I trust to God that ye shall speak to my husband and I shall pray that we may bring the matter to a conclusion.
Unmarried girls in Britain and Italy used to wake up before sunrise on Valentine's Day. They believed that the first man they see on Valentine's Day or someone who looks like him would marry them within a year. Girls, therefore, used to wake up early to stand by their window and wait for the man to pass. William Shakespeare, the famous English playwright, mentions this belief in Hamlet (1603). Ophelia, a woman in the play, sings:
Good morrow! 'Tis St. Valentine's Day
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your valentine!
Another popular belief held by people of Great Britain made women pin four bay leaves to the corners of their pillow and eat eggs with salt replacing the removed yokes on Valentine's Day eve. Unmarried girls to dream of their future husband followed the custom. Unmarried ladies also used to write their lover's names on paper and put them on clay balls that they would drop into the water. It was believed that whichever paper came up first, that man would be their future husband!