The gory origins of Valentine’s day


St. Valentine’s Day, or simply Valentine’s Day, is one of the most celebrated holidays in the United States. According to the National Retail Federation, roughly 55% of Americans celebrate the holiday. Like every holiday, the traditions and customs of the day have accumulated and changed throughout the ages. While you will surely see aisles stocked with chocolates and teddy bears as hearts decorate every corner of the store, the holiday’s roots were once a much different scene.
Some time before the end of the fifth century AD, the Romans celebrated the festival of Lupercalia from the 13th to the 15th of February. It was a pagan tradition meant to celebrate and bring forth fertility. The Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would travel to a cave that was believed to be the original home of the founders of Rome. According to legend, the infants, Romulus and Remus, were cared for by a female wolf called a “Lupa.” The ritual would commence with the sacrifice of a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. The goat was then skinned, and the hide was cut into thin strips. The strips would then be dipped in the sacrificial blood and used to gently slap both women and crops to bless them with fertility. Another tradition was that single men would draw names of the women of the city out of a large urn. The man and the woman, whose name was drawn, would then be paired with each other to see if the two were a good match.
This tradition changed at the end of the fifth century, however, when it was outlawed by Pope Gelasius for being “un-Christian,” and February 14th was declared St. Valentine’s Day in honor of one of two people named Valentine. It is still somewhat unclear which of these two people the holiday is supposed to honor. The most popular and likely story is that Valentine was a Catholic priest under Emperor Claudius II, who was pagan. Claudius believed that Roman soldiers should never marry because of their devotion to Rome. It was, therefore, illegal for a soldier to marry someone. Valentine gained a reputation by marrying soldiers in secrecy. He was eventually discovered and imprisoned for his crimes. Legend has it that he fell in love with the jailor’s daughter and that his final act before his execution was a love letter signed, “from your Valentine.” This likely originated the use of “Valentine” to mean “lover.”
The day itself was not initially associated with love and affection. That aspect of Valentine’s Day gained popularity at some point in the Middle Ages, though the day was thought to coincide with the mating season of birds as far back as its inception. The practice of Valentine greetings was common in this period, but the first written Valentine greetings started appearing around the beginning of the 15th century.
Slowly, the holiday took the form it has today. By the mid-18th century, the tradition of exchanging small notes of affection became common among friends and lovers. The first mass-produced cards were sold by Esther A. Howland in the mid-19th century. Now, roughly 145 million cards are exchanged every year.
As with many of the world’s most popular holidays, traditions grow, change, and come together to create brilliant experiences. From an ancient festival to a commercial success, Valentine’s Day has grown in popularity by the millions as people around the world come together to celebrate love and bonds of friendship. Editors. (2009, December 22). History of valentine’s day.
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