Valentine’s Day is a lot of things. Romantic. Consumerist. Depressing. Annoying. Sweet. But what most people don’t know is that it’s also pagan, rather gory, and was originally related to… goats?
Valentine’s Day started out as Lupercalia, an ancient Roman festival to promote fertility. Held February 13-15, Lupercalia basically involved naked men running around the streets of Rome slapping women with goat-skin thongs. (For some reason, this was thought to increase fertility.)
Of course, all this pagan debauchery wasn’t really popular with the local Christian leaders. So, much like with other holidays, in 496, Pope Gelasius I declared “Valentine’s Day” a Christian holiday, marking the date as the 14th. However, the inspiration behind the holiday is still a mystery. While rumors circulate of Saint Valentine, a martyr who secretly married couples against the law and, languishing in prison, wrote his beloved a letter signed, “From your Valentine,” this tale is probably apocryphal. The truth is that there are three Valentines, all saints, and all killed in bloody and horrific ways; we have no idea which of them, if any, is behind our present-day holiday.
Along with the most famous Valentine, there is also the priest Valentine, who restored the sight of a blind girl and then fell in love with her; he was later beheaded. Last was another priest, who was tortured in the ACE 200s under Pope Claudius II.
However, the first real Valentine’s Day began in 1382, when Geoffrey Chauncer, in his poem “Parliament of Fowls” wrote that birds mated on “Seynt Valentyne’s Day.” While originally describing bird mating, at some point this sentiment migrated over to humans.
Then, a few decades later, the Duke of Orleans wrote what is commonly regarded as the oldest valentine, a rhyming love poem sent from prison to his wife Bonne. As with the first Valentines, his tale ended tragically; Bonne died before her husband could return to her.
As the years passed, more and more people began sending letters and cards to loved ones to mark the special occasion. And, in 1913, the foundations of the modern Valentine’s Day were laid when Hallmark put out their first Valentine’s Day card.
From there, VDay has gotten progressively more consumerist and, frankly, less nice, with women conditioned to expect flowers, chocolates, and/or jewelry as a sort of litmus test for their partners’ love. Hopefully, soon enough that ridiculous tradition will end; for many couples, it already has. But if your significant other complains about a lack of flowers, chocolates, or breakfast in bed on Valentine’s Day, feel free to remind them that at least there aren’t naked Roman men with goat thongs running around.
Photo credit: Thinkstock
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