Cupid’s arrow found its mark when it came to love and Appalachian Valentine Day traditions. Affection and courting were not defined by fancy restaurants or diamond rings. Instead, our ancestors celebrated love in a simple, strong, and true fashion. Their approaches were practical and from the heart, in contrast to the fancy and frivolous Valentine clichés.
First Comes Love
Appalachian love usually starts close to home. Small towns have a sense of community. The church, schoolhouse, fields, and social functions like picnics or river baptisms were meeting grounds for young lovers. Often marriages were prearranged, but some just followed their heart.
Finding love was the first step. Once a declaration of intention was announced, things moved along quickly.
Then Comes Courting on Appalachian Valentine Day
Dating was traditionally referred to as courting, which only lasted about 3 weeks. Though swift, the rules of courting were specific. Time was spent at church events, family dinners, and group activities. If young folks wanted to be alone, they were required to play a Courting Dulcimer. An instrument designed with 2 fret boards opposite one another, which ensured the couple’s hands were occupied. As long as both sides of the dulcimer were played, chaperones were confident chastity was intact.
Young couples were discouraged from spending time together without supervision. Too many rumors regarding a maiden’s chastity would inspire a colorful shotgun wedding. These forced nuptials might have been the origin of real wedding day jitters. Most Appalachian families didn’t have wealth, but the honor was given high regard.
Romantic Games and Gifts
One of the most famed Appalachian arts is quilting. Young women worked with female elders to hand stitch quilting patterns for hours. During these gatherings, the eligible females played a game. Four quilts were piled one atop another, and a cat was placed in the middle. One maiden held each corner and simultaneously tossed the cat into the air. The feline would flee, and whichever young lady the cat passed nearest to, was fated the next to be wed.
The pull of the heart is an inspiration for survival and innovation, especially in the hills. Traditional Valentine’s gifts
reflected the times but aired with a touch of romance. Sewing material or other presents could be ordered from the General Store, but money was short and time was limited. Hillbillies had to get more creative when it came to gift-giving.
A basket of pine or cedar with beautifully ripe berries took the place of roses. Like flowers, the wood brought a pleasant scent into the home. Some men made gifts, like fur muffs or wood carvings. Women did needlepoint on a handkerchief or made their husband socks or a shirt.
A common bond between Appalachian women was sewing, but pins and needles were once costly. A courteous gift was a folded paper with a love note, held together with sewing pins and needles. Thread, pincushion, or thimbles were traditionally considered precious Valentine gifts, as well.
Ring Around a Valentine
Traditional rings weren’t always affordable or available for engagement or vows. Legend has it an elder stitched the first double wedding ring pattern for a ringless young couple. The newlyweds were gifted the quilt, which ensured they always wore rings to bed. The special meaning behind the design caught on and is still practiced today.
Not all young folks would forgo rings. Overwhelming feelings of romance, love, and ingenuity inspired lovers to use
whatever they could find. Appalachian promise or wedding rings might be wire twisted in a circle, a piece of string or vine. It was but a simple gesture to symbolize love’s union.
An Appalachian Valentine Day celebrated love or vows, just as we do today. Mountain folks just lacked the commercialism of modern times. Love isn’t proven by expensive trinkets or costly material belongings. What matters most is appreciating life and the love of one’s partner and to cherish the love we have in life.