Regardless your feelings about the mid-winter holiday, the Valentines Day we know is all about taking a moment on February 14th to show those special to us, well, how special they are to us.
It’s a lovely reason to celebrate and a wonderful reminder to show our appreciation and love, but what’s really interesting about this day of sweets and flowers and chubby, stout, bow-wielding cherubs is that the origins are actually quite dark and bloody!
While the specific origins are a little murky, historians have looked to ancient Rome. A rather strange age where men hit on women by, well – ahem – hitting them!
Ancient Roman men do it better. NOT!
If there was a society due for a #metoo moment, it was this lot…
Apparently, annually for a few days through the middle of February, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. Goats and dogs were sacrificed and the women whipped with the hides of the freshly slain creatures.
These romantics “were drunk. They were naked,” says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. The young women, eagerly anticipating their turn, would actually line up to be hit, Lenski says. It was believed this ceremony would enhance their fertility.
Certainly, there’s nothing like being lashed with animal flesh to get the romantic juices flowing! To help things along, this festival of brutality included a matchmaking lottery, where amorous young men would draw the names of women from a vessel. Voila! Instant couple for the duration of the festivities, or, ideally, longer depending on the chemistry.
More Ancient Roman Entwining of Violence & Love
In addition to the weird festival of carnage, and in a strange twist, the ancient Romans may also claim credit for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.
Two centuries later, Pope Gelasius I made the holiday even more weird by instituting a mash-up of St. Valentine’s Day with the bloody Lupercalia in an effort to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been. Lenski adds, “It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love.”
Muddying the waters yet again, around that same time, the Normans celebrated Galatin’s Day. Galatin meant “lover of women.” At some point, this celebration was likely confused with St. Valentine’s Day… in part, because they sound alike.
So there you have it… a wildly different origin to the day that we celebrate today. However, if you happen to be a Valentines Day denier, you might fancy the dark history and take a more pagan enjoyment of what has become a largely commercial holiday.
In either case, for love or for violent and bloody pagan ritual, we’ve got your Valentines Day flower and gift needs covered! 😉