Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Bundle Up for Valentine's Day

Fun and surprising article! Credits given below from Knowledge News.
Bundle Up for Valentine's Day !
Say "bundle up," and you probably have memories of mom insisting you wear mittens on a cold winter day. But the history of bundling is a far more romantic affair. In fact, it's one of history's sexiest little secrets. This Valentine's Day, snuggle up with your sweetheart and learn how your ancestors got away with more than you ever imagined.

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

Love in the sack
Bundling was the practice of two young lovers sharing a bed without undressing. Though it allowed courting couples a rare and thrilling opportunity for pillow talk, the custom was mainly a practical one.Before planes, trains, and automobiles, a suitor might have to ride or walk some distance to see his sweetheart, and guests often spent the night. Economically minded parents could sleep tight knowing they'd saved money on costly candles, fires, and guest beds, since two teenagers wrapped in a quilt could produce their own heat.

But bundling was hardly an invitation to free love. Since a damaged reputation (or worse) had huge consequences, the rules had to be strict. There were lots of ways to ensure a safe and successful bundling. The oldest method, dating back to the Middle Ages, was to use a bundling board--a nearly body-length piece of wood secured upright between the lovers. Parents using this method relied on the modesty of the couple, as eager bedfellows could easily jump the board.

Another, more popular technique was to sew the boy or girl into a "bundling bag," a linen sheet that would bind, confine, and conceal the legs, and consequently, the potentially offending parts of the body. For especially determined lovers, more extreme restraints might be employed. Boys with Houdini-like talents might be bound right up to the neck in a bundling bag, with their hands tied behind their backs. Judging from the large number of children born out of wedlock throughout the 1700s, they escaped more than once.

Those Wayward Welsh
Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century English historians routinely blamed other cultures for any suspect practice that washed up on native shores. Sodomy was known as "the Italian vice." (Ironically, the Italians called it "the English vice.") Revolution? The French disease. Drunkenness? The Irish curse. In this same vein, bundling was laid at the feet of the Welsh, thanks in part to the region's remoteness.
By the late 1600s, Wales's supposedly relaxed sexual mores had become a running joke, with the scarcity of Welsh maidenheads the tired old punchline. But was it all xenophobic slander? In 1797, the English author of a travel diary observed that "the lower order of people do actually carry on their love affairs in bed," though he pointed out that it was all done with perfect innocence.

The author describes one young Welsh suitor who walked 11 miles every Sunday to see his chambermaid sweetheart. After attending morning prayers, her master permitted the girl and her boyfriend to spend an hour in bed together fully clothed, which they did every Sunday for two years until they finally married. Another visitor to Wales reported that female servants were so fond of bundling that they refused to work unless their lovers were permitted to share their beds.

Travelers reported similar customs in Germany, Scandinavia, England, and other parts of the Old World. In the Netherlands, bundling was referred to as "queesting"--literally, "searching." One observer of local Dutch lovers described how after a girl went to bed, her lover was permitted to sit beside her on top of the bedsheets. Of course, Hans often roamed, searching for the girl.

Bundling in the New World
When the Dutch sailed across the pond to the Hudson's shores, they brought their bundling boards and bags with them. In New York, the term "queesting" quickly anglicized to "questing." From there, the custom spread throughout New England until it was recognized as a Yankee phenomenon. Over time, the Old World origins of bundling melted away. Travelers to America who saw bundling in action generally identified it as a strange instance of colonial rusticity.

New York's early court transcripts and local parish records provide a glimpse into how bundling was viewed by those who practiced it. In 1658, the principal witness in a case against a young Albany woman testified that "when we were visiting together, we slept together in the garret." He insisted the lady remained "perfectly virtuous."

Yet not everyone agreed that the practice was an innocent one. In his History of New York, Washington Irving, under the assumed name of Diedrich Knickerbocker, gently mocked bundling as the reason for "the unparalleled increase of the Yanokie or Yankee tribe; for it is a certain fact, well authenticated by court records and parish registers, that wherever the practice of bundling prevailed, there was an amazing number of sturdy brats annually born unto the state, without the license of the law, or the benefit of clergy."

Separate Beds, Please
By the mid-1800s, bundling was on the wane in all but the most rural places. Cape Cod is often credited with being one of the last areas where bundling was practiced. A local Cape doctor writing in the late 1860s fondly reminisced to a writer friend about bundling with his paramour. She stayed wrapped the whole time, apparently, in her day dress and secure bloomer-style trousers, pulled tight with knots.
By the 20th century, modern freedoms and central heating had put an end to bundling. But the memory lingered on. In fact, in 1969, Time magazine featured an article on the "Society to Bring Back Bundling," in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. Apparently sick of bad weather, drive-in theaters, and a lack of local necking spots, Pottstown teens tried to revive the old custom. While the editors of Christianity Today supported the idea as a call for "a new moral code," Pottstown parents nixed it. You have to hand it to the kids for trying.
by Claire Vail February 13, 2006

Want to learn more? Peruse The Art of Bundling, a 1938 look at the colonial custom

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