Feb. 14 is commonly associated with romance, chocolate, flowers and winged babies shooting love-arrows; despite its wide reach, not many people know the history behind the holiday.
Valentine’s Day, as many things which have their origins rooted in ancient history, has many theories surrounding its birth and early practice.
Generally, there are two schools of thought: Christian and Pagan.
According to an NPR opinions article by Arnie Seipel, our modern “day of love” may have sprouted from some pretty dark traditions.
In that same article, Seipel drew a connection between Valentine’s Day and what he, and many others, believe to be the Roman origin of the holiday, Lupercalia.
Originally celebrated on Feb. 15, the ancient Roman holiday of Lupercalia (from the root-word lupus, meaning wolf) is described by Encyclopædia Britannica as a fertility festival which was believed to be in honor of the she-wolf who cared for abandoned infant brothers Romulus and Remus, who would later become the founders of Rome.
The celebration consisted of several ritualistic practices.
First, there was a ritual in which a presiding group of priests, called Luperci, sacrificed goats or dogs, smeared the bloody knives on the foreheads of two other Luperci and then wiped the blood off with milk-soaked wool.
All while the two, young, blood-covered Luperci laugh, according to Encyclopædia Britannica.
The Luperci would then cut whips from the hides of the animals they had just slaughtered and run around town, smacking women with the whips to make them more fertile.
Some historians, such as classics professor at the University of Colorado at Boulder Noel Lenski, say the men ran around naked while others say they wore only loincloths.
A publication in the University of Chicago Classical Philology journal, titled, “The Lupercalia in the Fifth Century” by William M. Green describes the transition of the holiday from Pagan to Christian.
In 494, as the Catholic church was becoming more established, Pope Gelasius oppressed the Pagan religions and replaced Lupercalia with the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin, also known as Candlemas.
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, Candlemas celebrates the day that Mary went to the Temple in Jerusalem to offer a sacrifice and present Jesus as her firstborn son.
As Christianity grew, the February holiday became more and more like the Saint Valentine’s Day we know today.
Sources such as Spiegel’s NPR article and Green’s publication identify the most likely point of origin for the Saint Valentine lore was a priest in Rome, who was executed on Feb. 14 on the order of Emperor Claudius II.
Claudius decided that, in order to keep a strong and loyal army, he couldn’t let his young soldiers marry and start families; and so he made marriage, for young men, illegal.
A particular priest in Rome named Valentine objected to the law, according to History.com, and married young couples in secret.
When his covert weddings were discovered, he was imprisoned, beaten to death with clubs and subsequently beheaded.
History.com also reported that, while the priest was in prison, he left a note for the jailer’s daughter, who had become his friend.
The note was signed, “From your Valentine,” the message seen in many modern Valentine’s Day cards.
At Keene State College, in the 1970s and ‘80s, students could attend mixers, send Valentines to fellow students and even profess their love through ads, such as the full-page love note from Charlie to Gwen in 1981.
Although Valentine’s Day has become highly commercialized in modern times, many still consider it a day of romance and love.
Abbygail Vasas can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org