In the Middle Ages, the term ?Valentine? designated the escort chosen by a young lady to accompany her on the first Sunday of Lent: it was the ?Brandons? (firebrands) festival.
The day before, the young men of the village harnessed themselves to a cart and dragged it about the streets, stopping at the doors of the houses where girls lived and begging for a faggot. When they had enough, they dragged the cart at some distance from the village, and set it on fire. All the inhabitants ? who came to see the bonfire ? danced around the blaze. After the Angelus, once the fire had extinguished, young men and girls used to jump over the embers. It was said that the ones who managed to jump the fire without scorching their clothes would marry in the year.
Then, they used to go to a neighbouring vine carrying an ignited straw yarn rolled around a stick, called a ?brandon?, in order to protect the vine against all evils. This protective fire, source of fertility and heat, was to make the earth fruitful and the vine vigorous. This festival had existed since earliest antiquity, in druidic times, and was called ?Beltaine?.
In ancient times in Lorraine, young men got together on February 14th in order to draw up a list of gallants. They wrote down in front of each name the name of a girl, a potential fiancée, without even consulting her.
Sometimes a Valentine girl was chosen by several gallants, and the young men were to plead their cause before a special court.
This custom, called the ?Saudée?, was to last en entire year! The Valentine boy offered gifts to his beloved, generally in the form of illustrated cards. People even organized a raffle, prized with wine bottles, to make this popular festival more fun.
In the past, women used embroidered handkerchiefs to suggest men they should woo them. They dropped their handkerchief inopportunely in order to draw the attention of the man they liked... Besides, it is interesting to notice that the word ?lace? comes from the Latin term ?laqueare?, which means ?to catch?. Thus a lace handkerchief was supposed to ?catch? the heart of the beloved one.
It is also on February 14th that girls tried to guess what kind of husband they would have. To do so, they looked at birds.
A goldfinch was a sign of marriage with a fortunate man.
A robin announced a marriage with a man wearing a uniform (marine, military...).
A sparrow ensured a happy marriage, but with a poor man.
Besides, it was particularly important that the girl should avoid seeing a squirrel on Saint Valentine?s Day, because, still according to the ancient belief, it would indicate she would marry a miser who would capture her entire fortune...
At medieval times, people who could not write had to give their assent by signing official documents with an X. The signature took place before witnesses and the signatory was to plant a kiss on the X to prove his sincerity. This kiss was as valuable as oath taking.
Since, Love letters sent on Valentine?s Day are sometimes signed with an X that represents a kiss.