While some historians believe the holiday started with St. Valentine, others think it started with a pagan festival
Describe a typical Valentine’s Day scene. Are there joyful exchanges between loved ones? Red roses being bought in the store and couples eating across from one another at a candlelit dinner?
Now, can you describe what took place during Lupercalia, an ancient pagan festival held each year in Rome on Feb. 15?
Unlike Valentine’s Day, Lupercalia was a bloody, violent and sexually-charged celebration awash with animal sacrifice, random matchmaking and coupling in the hopes of warding off evil spirits and infertility according to history.com.
But, amid all the horror, some historians believe that Lupercalia was the origin of what we know today as Valentine’s Day.
To begin the festival, Roman priests gathered at a sacred cave where the founders of Rome were cared for by a lupa or she-wolf. The priests then stripped the skin of a sacrificed goat, for fertility and a dog for purification.
The strips were dipped into blood to gently slap women. This act supposedly increased the women’s fertility for the coming year.
Later in the day, young unwed women placed their name into a big urn to be chosen by an eligible bachelor. The couple would stay together for a year until the next celebration, but the arrangements often ended in marriage.
The other common origin story of Valentine’s Day is that it is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of St. Valentine’s death or burial.
According to the National Public Radio, Emperor Claudius II executed two men named Valentine on Feb. 14. Their martyrdom is honored by the Catholic Church on St. Valentine’s Day.
It is said that the Christian church tried to “Christianize” the pagan festival by placing St. Valentine’s feast in the middle of February.
At the end of the 5th century, Lupercalia was outlawed when Pope Gelasius officially declared February as Valentine’s Day. An English poet named Geoffery Chaucer wrote the first record that St. Valentine’s was a romantic celebration in his 1385 poem “Parliament of Foules.”
Valentine greetings became popular back in the Middle Ages with the oldest known valentine written in 1415. The first hand-made valentines began in the 1700s and in the 1840s, Esther A. Howland sold the first mass-produced valentines in America.
It was common for friends and lovers of all social classes to exchange gifts in the middle of the 18th century. In the 1900s, printed, ready-made cards were an uneasy way for people to express their feelings.
Not including kids exchanging valentines in classrooms, 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are sold each year according to Hallmark. Along with cards, flowers and chocolates are popular items used to show affection to one another.
Approximately 250 million roses are produced for Valentine’s Day according to safnow.org. 58 million pounds of chocolate are purchased in the seven days leading up to Feb. 14 according to thedailymeal.com.
Today, Valentine’s Day is a celebration to show affection for another. It doesn’t just have to be a significant other, it can also be friends, families or pets.