Hello and good morning everyone! We all know which holiday is coming up featuring red hearts and cupid’s arrow. That’s right! Valentine’s Day! I wanted to write an article for you guys talking about the origins of Valentine’s Day because we could all use a little history in our lives, don’t you think?
But first thing’s first! Ad time from your local dangerously undercaffeinated writer!
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The origin of Valentine’s Day…All Roads Lead To Rome
All roads lead to Rome, or at least that seemed to be the truth at one point in history with the rise of the civilization we now know as the Roman empire surrounding the Mediterranean Sea. Today it can still be true if we are talking mental roads or the roads that lead us from the past to the present…but I digress. Valentine’s Day has Roman roots!
The day has multiple sources of major events leading to what we celebrate today with paper hearts and poems beginning with “roses are red, violets are blue,” but the very first beginnings were not so childishly innocent.
Valentine’s day is known as a day of love but a widely believed source of the day stemmed from a festival known as Lupercalia. As Arnie Siepel, a writer and editor at NPR.org, stated, “From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia,” while History.com stated that the festival was held on February 15th (NPR.org) (History.com). Lupercalia was a bloody, violent, and sexually charged festival wherein animal sacrifices would be made then their hides used to whip women to bless them with fertility; meanwhile, much like a key party, random names would be drawn and those people would “couple” throughout the event. All of this was done to “ward off evil spirits and infertility” and the festival has been dated as far back as 6th century B.C. (History.com).
What’s In A Name? Lupercalia.
The word Lupercalia is believed to have come from the Roman fertility god Lupercus (Pantheon.org), OR from the sacred site Lupercal where the legendary Romulus and Remus were said to have been suckled by the she-wolf who saved them from drowning in the river (Mentalfloss.com), OR from Lupa (she-wolf) who suckled them and picus (woodpecker) who fed them(WorldHistory.org)…or even a combination of all three. There are many origins of the name “Lupercalia.”
As we move from the reason for the season, or in this case the day, we next wonder why the name is not along the same vein as Lupercalia. Where did we get the word “Valentine” from and why is it “Valentine’s Day?” Once again, we look towards Rome.
A very well known human pastime is torture and legally sanctioned murder. This bloody and dark history did not spare even the day meant for flowers and over-priced chocolate. In this case, Valentine was the name of not one man but two that were sentenced to execution by Emperor Claudius II during the 3rd century. Separated by different years, their unfortunate deaths were delivered on the same day of February 14th (NPR.org).
Why February 14th?
The reason Valentine’s Day is held on February 14th now makes sense with the knowledge you just learned about both Mr. Valentines being executed on that day in different years. But many people were executed, why were these two so important?
We’re forgetting a very integral part of the day. It’s now more commonly known as Valentine’s Day but I’m sure you’ve heard it called SAINT Valentine’s Day. Ringing any bells? Valentine #1 was a man in Rome who went against Emperor Claudius II in a rule against marriage, put in place by the emperor because men were putting their wives and children above their duty to go to war for the Roman empire, by continuing on to marry young couples in secret. When the emperor found out, he wasn’t all too pleased and had Valentine put to death for it.
It is thought that while he was in jail awaiting death by means of beating with a club and beheading, he wrote a note to his daughter and signed it, “From your Valentine,” he was named a Saint after his death in honor of his sacrifice (History.com).
Valentine #2 is a different story. There has actually thought to have been as many as THREE St. Valentine’s all put to death for different reasons. History remembered St. Valentine #1 the best with the day of love we all know and cherish today.
Lupercalia, St. Valentine, and Pagans, Oh my!
The last step of wonderment for the origins of this day is how the festival of Lupercalia and the death of St. Valentine merged to create St. Valentine’s Day? Well, as most of our modern holidays, St. Valentine’s Day was a recreated and Christianized version of a pagan holiday. That’s right. The Christians, or specifically Pope Gelasius, took Lupercalia and slapped St. Valentine’s name on it to drive away the pagan spirits, or as written by History.com, “In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius decided to put an end to the Feast of Lupercalia, and he declared that February 14 be celebrated as St. Valentine’s Day” (History.com).
From Sour to Sweet.
So we can all admit that the beginnings of the holiday are pretty sour. But how did we get to the sweet candy swapping, paper heart giving, flower displaying holiday that we all know and some of us love?
Well, as most of our words were invented by an ingenious man, so was the holiday helped to become sweeter by none other than Shakespeare himself (with the added help of Chaucer no less)!
The two famous writers slowly but steadily romanticized the holiday in their works until the New World was established and the industrial revolution began mass producing holiday cards. Very quickly the day with such a bitter beginning turned into the modern day of love that we know now! Like a very warped game of telephone, the Roman origins were quickly buried in the static.
Now, St. Valentine’s Day is a day to buy anatomically incorrect heart shaped balloons, stuffed bears, and chocolate and is denounced by most single people as a day not even worth sniffing at. I wonder what the ancient Romans and executed Valentines would have to say about that?
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