You may have heard that “you can’t buy love,” but that wasn’t exactly true during the 17th and 18th centuries, and possibly even during the 15th century.
Way back when, Valentine’s Day was more closely associated with a “love lottery” than with giving a chocolate heart to your favorite sweetie.
The Valentine’s Day Lottery, Choosing Love by Drawing Lots
Scholars have unearthed evidence of how Valentine’s Day was spent in the form of diary entries, poems and travelogues. Here is how the big “lottery” day would unfold:
Men and women would gather on the eve of Valentine’s Day to write down their names. It wasn’t unheard of for women to arrive fully prepared, pulling folded slips of paper from their bodices.
After the slips of paper were gathered, men would randomly draw from the women’s names, while women would draw from the men’s names.
Of course, this meant that they’d often draw different names—but the men’s choice is what reportedly took precedence. After all, this was during the 17th century.
The lottery was described as a widespread “social game”, according to a paper published in the journal Folklore by University of Exeter professor Nick Groom.
What happened next is that the couple was obligated to last until the next Valentine’s Day–at least, that’s what some history suggests. The couple effectively became a year-long blind date, although the general expectation was that they at least spend the following day together.
Gifts Were Expected, Because of Course They Were
After winning the Valentine’s Day lottery, an exchange of gifts would happen. This could be something as small as a pair of gloves or some other trinket, but if you were upper class, things could get quite fancy.
For example, Queen Mary I of England was known to have given a gold and black brooch that was decorated with rubies and agate to Sir Antony Brown, who had the fortune of drawing her name as his Valentine.
Not only did they give gifts, but they also made quite a show of wearing each other’s names for several days, displaying them on their clothing or tucking them into their hats.
“It was a form of social bonding in the community,” explained Groom, even if it was an “imitation of blind Cupid’s arrow.”