Old "romantic" customs we're glad are gone

Updated August 10, 2017

On Valentine's Day, anniversaries and other special occasions, couples demonstrate their feelings with gifts of flowers, cards and chocolates. Lovers strive to capture the attentions of those they admire. But although these romantic customs have stood the test of time, there are a few traditions that are no longer around -- and the world of love is better off for it.

Mutton under the pillow

An old Welsh tradition states that a young woman who places a shoulder of mutton under her pillow and arranges her shoes in a T at the foot of her bed will see the face of her future love in her dreams that night. This is one of a wide range of folk rituals related to foretelling love -- but probably the messiest.

Related: 10 Old wives' tales people still believe

Random Valentines

Early Valentine's Day customs weren't quite as attached to true romance as their modern counterparts. In the 17th century and earlier, communities often selected valentines at random, either by having men give gifts to the first woman they saw on Valentine's Day or by selecting pairs of valentines by lot.

Related: 7 Unconventional Valentine's Day gifts

Leap year proposals

Legend has it that the custom of women proposing to men on the 29th of February originates with Queen Margaret of Scotland, who decreed a fine for men who failed to accept these proposals in 1288. Although this is probably a legend, the fact that this custom is no longer observed is a source of relief to some men.

Related: History's unlikeliest love stories


Floriography, or the secret language of flowers, was an elaborate code created, according to legend, by King Charles II of Sweden, who, like most kings, had too much free time. Each type of flower carried a different meaning. Although some florists still practice the code of floriography, most people don't know it -- which saves a lot of unintentional miscommunication when suitors pick their bouquets in a hurry!

Related: Rebellious royals, a history of monarchs that didn't fit the mould

Mock Valentines

Mock Valentines were a popular fad in 19th-century Britain and the United States, following closely on the heels of Valentine cards themselves. These cards appeared outwardly to be normal Valentine's cards, but contained mean-spirited caricatures or even direct insults.

Related: Top 10 signs that it's time to give up on your relationship

Valentine's Day begging

In the eighteenth century, children in parts of England would go from house to house on Valentine's Day, reciting rhymes and receiving small presents of money from the household. In Norfolk, other revellers would wear outlandish costumes as a holiday character called "Father Valentine."

Related: 9 Ways to make cash during a recession

Valentine's Bonfires

French Valentine's Day customs could occasionally turn nasty. Couples would be chosen by lot, but the male valentine had the opportunity to reject his partner if he didn't like her. The rejected women would make effigies of their partners and burn them in a ceremonial bonfire. These bonfires became so wild that they eventually had to be outlawed.

Related: The ancient origins of Valentine's Day

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About the Author

Dr James Holloway has been writing about games, geek culture and whisky since 1995. A former editor of "Archaeological Review from Cambridge," he has also written for Fortean Times, Fantasy Flight Games and The Unspeakable Oath. A graduate of Cambridge University, Holloway runs the blog Gonzo History Gaming.