7 Ridiculous Romantic Traditions From History

Ad failed to load

In case you haven't noticed the masses of heart-shaped balloons and overpriced single roses for sale in the supermarket, today is Valentine's Day, our annual celebration of love, romance, and not being able to get a dinner reservation to save your life. But no matter where you fall on actually enjoying the holiday, don't you have to admit that some of the gifts and rituals feel, well, sort of tired? The same roses, red glitter, lacy love hearts, and chocolate each year: the tropes of romance in modern America are well-trodden, so much so that you'd think they were age-old.

But they aren't. And history offers some stranger, and vastly more entertaining, alternatives for your February 14th celebrations (though some of these traditions existed long before people actually began observing Valentine's Day, a holiday that has only been celebrated in a form anywhere near what we now do since the Middle Ages).

Courtship behavior in various cultures throughout human history has come in many different forms — some of which we are better for having lost, but some of which we should regret having misplaced in the mists of time. While the practice of "bundling" — where courting couples would be tied tightly in sheets so that they could lie beside one another all night talking without the potential loss of virginity — has been deservedly replaced by living together before marriage, others deserve to be resurrected. Because, after all, there's no better way to impress your lover than by shooting a glass of wine from the back of a horse.

Ad failed to load

Casting Love Spells That Involve Wax Goats & Dogs

Walters Art Museum

If your Valentine isn't necessarily aware that you exist, sending a totally-not-at-all-creepy random text or sliding into their DMs may seem like a good way to connect with them — but the ancient Egyptians provide other ideas. Papyri from various periods in Egypt, particularly when it was under Greek control, indicate that people who couldn't get their lovers attention would seek to impress them with various spells. And some of 'em could get a bit gruesome.

One, from the Leyden Papyrus dating from around 250 AD, requires you to burn the hair of your lover in a lamp, as well as a handful of wax or clay sacred animals (scarabs, goats, and hawks); you would recite a spell in front of the lamp and the figures, to lure the lover to you "full of love and craving." Easy enough.

If that doesn't work, you can progress to the Papyri Graecae Magicae from the 2nd century BC onwards, which takes a slightly more serious perspective on the whole idea. It advises that you remove a bat's eyes, mold a dog out of wax, put the bat's eyes into it, stick the eyes with a needle, put the dog in a cup, and bury it at a crossroads with a strip of papyrus on it spelling out that your loved one should "lie awake for you for all eternity." Three-course meals and oysters suddenly seem a little tame by comparison. (Also, I shouldn't have to say this, but I will: please, DO NOT REMOVE A LIVE BAT'S EYES. No on Valentine's Day, no on other days, not even on a dare from your Valentine, who happens to adore ancient Egyptian love spells.)

Singing Obscene Songs To Your Pals

Villa de Cicerone

Getting married in ancient rural Rome? You'd likely have a bunch of friends around you singing what was called Fescennine verse — hugely obscene and satirical songs about marriage, sex, and everything else they could think of. Originally, these songs were meant to be fertility and luck charms, and were sung by people with masks made out of tree bark, according to Cicero. They were designed to shock and embarrass, but at some point they apparently went too far; Horace reports that they eventually evolved into such abusive ditties (particularly insulting the Roman gods) that laws were laid against singing a malum carmen, an evil or hurtful charm. The core idea, though, still seems like a pretty good way to revive a stagnating V-Day date.

Giving Your Love Belts With Sexy Scenes Drawn On Them

The Metropolitan Museum

The Italian Renaissance was all about symbolism and high art among the nobility, and one of the most amorous gifts you could give to a woman you were courting was a girdle, or belt. This may sound very 50 Shades Of Grey, but actually, the ones preserved by museums are more about showing off erotic scenes in embroidery and, in some cases, attached charms: the Victoria & Albert Museum has a tiny inlaid case meant to be hung from a lady's belt covered in scenes depicting courtly love poetry.

The Metropolitan Museum points out that the idea of a girdle as a love-gift to a woman likely originated with Christian ritual, because " the touch of a particular relic of the Virgin‘s girdle was said to aid women in childbirth;" however, a lot of the ones we've got show scenes of men and women doing provocative, romantic stuff, not going through a pregnancy. Your lady-love would wear this belt with the ends dangling delicately in the breeze. (This is also potentially where the idea of the "chastity belt" came from, as it was first called a "Florentine girdle," though a lot of that appears to be myth created by the Victorians.)

Ad failed to load

Pulling Valentines Out Of A Hat

Esther Howland

Samuel Pepys, great diarist of 1600s England, is one of our prime sources for a pretty charming Valentine tradition that's since died out. All the children and adults in a house or community would gather together and put their names in a hat, and the name each person drew out would be their Valentine for the day.

We can see, Pepys scholar Samuel Latham notes in his companion to the diaries, how this tradition changed from year to year: initially the papers were just plain and would be worn on the person's clothing as a "favor," or the process would be further simplified by choosing the first person of the opposite sex you saw on February 14. (Eurgh.)

It gradually evolved so that the papers were decorated with gold and "little mottoes," and that every Valentine had to get a present (Pepys often complained of the money involved), usually gloves or a ring. Latham also mentions that the Valentine game in court became shockingly expensive, with one noblewoman receiving an £800 jewel in 1668, an amount worth perhaps $300,000 today.

Shooting Glasses Off Horses Before Proposing

Hrvoje's Missal

18th century Polish culture apparently expected pretty grand things of its male suitors when they came courting in noble families. Edward Muir, in Rituals In Early Modern Europe, calls it "a certain extravagance in manners," and provides a pretty illuminating anecdote from a young woman of the Szamowska family:

Considering our modern concerns about cruelty to animals (that horse can't have been happy with the situation), you could try knocking a crystal glass off the top of your car as a more acceptable update.

Putting Mutton Under Your Pillow To Dream Of Love

Joachim Beuckelaer

William Wirt Sykes wrote a guide to Welsh folklore in the 19th century that remains a very entertaining read, not least because some of the included customs surrounding how to "see" your future husband or wife are pretty adorable. A lot of European folklore has this component: putting wedding cake under your pillow in order to dream of your future betrothed, for instance, is a tradition that dates from 17th century England. The Welsh ones have died out, though, and I for one vote that they be revived, if only because they'll entertain everybody.

Sykes noted that the Welsh were gender-equal in how they did their love-charms, though the men were, perhaps, a bit more lewd. Women had a few choices: they could put a shoulder of mutton with nine holes in it under their pillows to entice romantic dreams, or go into the garden at midnight and sow seeds while singing a charm to entice their future husbands to "sow with me." The best one, though, was making a complicated cake:

Apparently the man of her dreams would appear in the night to offer her a drink to slake her thirst. Men's charms were a little more, er, direct: they would take a girl's garters, weave them into a love-knot, put them under their clothes and hope to dream of the girl's face. As they'd managed to get the garters in the first place, the wooing was probably already half-done.

Ad failed to load

Using A Courting Tube

Wellcome Collection

Courting tubes, or courting sticks, are an interesting part of American folk history; we're not entirely sure that the Puritans used them, but were at the very least definitely used in the 18th century in Connecticut. The basic function was this: if you were in a crowded room and wanted to whisper saucy things to your beau, but were impeded by the presence of many prominent members of his or her family looking disapproving, you were given a "courting tube" or "courting stick," a long, hollow tube through which you could communicate softly without actually touching. It was a pretty good way to circumvent the whole chaperoning issue without endangering chastity.

(If you were living in Sussex in England before the turn of the century, a "courting stick" was something else entirely: a long stick of hazel marked by clinging honeysuckle vines, meant to give gentlemen luck when they went courting. If nothing else, it's more romantic than mentioning your "courting stick" on Tinder.)

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

Here Are The Exact Steps To Take If You Want To Travel All The Time & Work Remotely

When I first decided I wanted to become a digital nomad — someone who travels non-stop while working remotely — I was terrified and unsure if I would actually go through with it. I worried my work would suffer from all the travel and time zone change…
By Suzannah Weiss

Here’s Everything Leaving & Coming To Netflix In April

As the virtual shelf life for non-original Netflix programs grows shorter and shorter, fans of the streaming service are bidding woeful goodbyes to their favorite titles left and right. So, for those who need some time to prepare, here's everything l…
By Angelica Florio

11 Ways To Stay Positive When Dating Feels Like The Worst, According To Matchmakers

With every first date that leads to nowhere or every non-relationship that ends up being a waste of your time, finding love can seem far from possible. It can also be pretty rough on your self-esteem if you continually put a lot of effort into dating…
By Kristine Fellizar

7 Ways To Celebrate Your 30th Birthday That Are Feminist AF

Turning 30 is a pretty major milestone; it's one of those birthdays where large parties, floods of presents and many bouquets from besotted admirers seem to be in order. And as a woman and a feminist, I'm here to offer some additional 30th birthday i…
By JR Thorpe

Is Amazon's Alexa Making Our Relationships Weird?

Earlier this year, I started dating a guy who was in a very codependent relationship with Alexa. Alexa helped this guy (I'll call him "Paul") decide where to eat dinner and reminded him to work out. Alexa handled his to-do lists, restocked his toile…
By Sophie Saint Thomas

You Can Get Too Faced Mascara & Tarte Lipstick For HALF OFF At Ulta This Month

It's finally here! Ulta's 21 Days of Beauty Sale runs from now through Saturday, April 7 and is the retailer's epic "event" of the year. The promotion features "Beauty Steals," which means 50 percent off specific products for a single day. It also in…
By Amy Sciarretto

7 Things My 20s Taught Me About Toxic Relationships

I'll be turning 30 in less than a week, and while I'm trying to get all the habits of my twenties out of the way ASAP, I'm also reflecting on the what I learned over the past decade. And top of the list is the lessons I learned about toxic relationsh…
By JR Thorpe

7 Surprising Things That Happened When I Went A Month Without Drinking

If someone asked you if you could take a break from drinking alcohol, would you be able to do it? You may think it’s no big deal to take a month off from drinking, or you may think it’s a *huge* deal, as alcohol seems to be the center of many social …
By Natalia Lusinski

I Wore 'Dad Shoes' For A Week & They Were SO Much Cooler Than I Thought They’d Be

It’s no secret that fashion loves a good polarizing trend. Not too long ago, Birkenstocks made their high fashion runway appearance at Céline and Crocs followed suit on the runways of Christopher Kane and Balenciaga. Now, it’s time for the "ugly" sne…
By Dale Arden Chong

8 Ways Younger Millennials Communicate That Older Millennials Don’t Get

When comparing the ways our parents grew up communicating and the way we all grew up communicating, it seems like their generation and ours grew up in a different world. The technology our parents grew up with was so basic, it's ancient in comparison…
By Kaitlyn Wylde

This Is The ONE Sign That Won’t Be Affected By Mercury Retrograde This Month

It really doesn't seem fair that one astrological sign can ever enjoy the benefit of escaping the wrath of Mercury retrograde — that is, of course, unless that sign is your own — but it happens. Occasionally, the stars just align in the right way for…
By Kaitlyn Wylde

Why My Boyfriend & I Started Couples Counseling 6 Months Into Our Relationship

Right away, Kurt and I agreed on almost everything. We had met through a mutual friend in 2015, but we didn't start dating until we came across each other on Bumble a few years later. That's when we discovered that we were on the same page when it ca…
By Rachel Simon

This Primer & Mascara Combo Literally Doubles The Length Of My Eyelashes

Even as someone who loves beauty, I was never been particularly passionate about finding the perfect mascara. And then I got lash extensions for the first time. While I enjoy the long, full lashes that lash extensions provide, I always found myself j…
By Olivia Muenter

I Accidentally Fell In Love With My Friend With Benefits & It's Painful

Against my better judgment, I have fallen in love with my friend with benefits. I think I may have fallen in love with him month ago, but being stubborn AF, I fought against those feelings, tooth and nail, and, when it was suggested by a couple close…
By Amanda Chatel

This Viral Post About A Woman Breastfeeding In Public Actually Has A Happy Ending For Once

And today in things that will warm even the coldest of hearts, we have this: A story recently posted to the r/TwoXChromosome subreddit about a dad’s response to his daughter shaming a breastfeeding parent is everything. Posted by Redditor u/starsonwi…
By Lucia Peters

These March Beauty Launches Require Your Immediate Attention

I write one of these beauty editorials every month (feel free to check out January and February 2018 if you're in need of even more products to shower yourself with). Sometimes, I get worried that there won't be enough newness to share — especially b…
By Amanda Richards

Here's How You’re Most Likely To Get Your Heart Broken, Based On Your Zodiac Sign

Getting your heart broken can be one of the most painful experiences you can have in your life. But if you're into astrology, being familiar with your zodiac sign can be pretty helpful. For instance, when you know the ways you're likely to get your h…
By Kristine Fellizar

Finger Piercings Are Trending & The Internet Is Very Divided About Them

A new "accessories" trend is asserting itself on Instagram and it's subversive, non-traditional, and so darn precious. It also looks a tad painful but the end result is worth it. Dermal diamond finger piercings are a thing and they may make actual ri…
By Amy Sciarretto

How I Learned Losing Your Job Isn't The End Of The World

Two and a half years ago, I was taking a day off from my marketing job at a San Francisco tech startup to host a friend when I got a call from the CEO. Apparently, I'd missed a pretty big day: 80 percent of the company, including the whole sales and …
By Suzannah Weiss

Meghan Markle's First Appearance With The Queen Included An Homage To Princess Diana

Fashion pundits love keeping a close eye on what the women of the monarchy are wearing, especially when there's an overlap with Princess Diana's sense of style. We're nothing but nostalgic when it comes to Princess Di and her on-point aesthetic. Find…
By Marlen Komar

Why Arizona's Exit From 'Grey's Anatomy' Is A Huge Blow To The LGBTQ Community

Whenever I re-watch Grey's Anatomy, I don't start with Derek Shepherd waking up in Meredith's apartment after their first hookup. I start with Season 5, when Callie first meets Arizona in a bar. I start here, because I want to watch someone like me f…
By Martha Sorren

I Couldn't Find A Beauty Campaign With Plus Size Models, So I Made One Myself

In the fall of 2015, I visited relatives in my hometown, a small suburb of New Jersey. There isn't much to do there, apart from dining at Applebee's or hitting the mall. As a plus size woman, cruising through a shopping mall is a mixed bag. Certain d…
By Marie Southard Ospina

The 21 New Books That Goodreads Users Are Most Excited About This Spring

Despite the fact the Northeast is being pummeled by yet another storm that threatens to trap the region in snow and ice for eternity, winter is finally almost over, and you know what that means. No, I'm not talking about April showers or May flowers …
By Sadie Trombetta

If You’re Addicted To Rewatching ‘The Office,' There’s An Actual Reason For That

A few weeks ago, I tweeted that I was looking for fans of The Office who can't stop, won't stop rewatching the series, and that they should email me if they'd like to contribute to an article about their obsession. By the next morning, I had 32 messa…
By Lia Beck