February 13

St Valentine’s Eve

During the 19th century, inhabitants of the eastern English city of Norwich celebrated the unique custom described here in Chamber’s Book of Days.

At Norwich, St. Valentine’s eve appears to be still kept as a time for a general giving and receiving of gifts. It is a lively and stirring scene. The streets swarm with carriers, and baskets laden with treasures; bang, bang, bang go the knockers, and away rushes the banger, depositing first upon the door-step some packages from the basket of stores—again and again at intervals, at every door to which a missive is addressed, is the same repeated, till the baskets are empty. Anonymously, St. Valentine presents his gifts, labelled only with “St Valentine’s love,” and “Good morrow, Valentine.” Then within the houses of destination, the screams, the shouts, the rushings to catch the bang-bangs,—the flushed faces, sparkling eyes, rushing feet to pick up the fairy-gifts—inscriptions to be interpreted, mysteries to be unravelled, hoaxes to be found out —great hampers, heavy and ticketed “With care, this side upwards,” to be unpacked, out of which jump live little boys with St. Valentine’s love to the little ladies fair,—the sham bang-bangs, that bring nothing but noise and fun—the mock parcels that vanish from the door-step by invisible strings when the door opens—monster parcels that dwindle to thread papers denuded of their multiplied envelopes, with fitting mottoes, all tending to the final consummation of good counsel, “Happy is he who expects nothing, and he will not be disappointed.” 

This lovely practice disappeared but there are recent attempts in Norwich to revive the custom.

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