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The Dark Origins Of Valentine's Day

Society & Culture  (tags: americans, children, culture, education, freedoms, government, history, society, women )

- 1527 days ago -
Valentine's Day is a time to celebrate romance and love and kissy-face fealty. But the origins of this festival of candy and cupids are actually dark, bloody -- and a bit muddled.

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Kit B (276)
Thursday February 13, 2014, 8:35 pm
Image Credit: Hulton Archive/Getty Images - A drawing depicts the death of St. Valentine one of them, anyway. The Romans executed two men by that name on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D.

Valentine's Day is a time to celebrate romance and love and kissy-face fealty. But the origins of this festival of candy and cupids are actually dark, bloody and a bit muddled.

Though no one has pinpointed the exact origin of the holiday, one good place to start is ancient Rome, where men hit on women by, well, hitting them.

Those Wild And Crazy Romans

From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.

The Roman romantics "were drunk. They were naked," says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile.

The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, um, coupled up for the duration of the festival or longer, if the match was right.

The ancient Romans may also be responsible 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.

Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine's Day with Lupercalia 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."

Around the same time, the Normans celebrated Galatin's Day. Galatin meant "lover of women." That was likely confused with St. Valentine's Day at some point, in part because they sound alike.

Shakespeare In Love

As the years went on, the holiday grew sweeter. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized it in their work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Handmade paper cards became the tokens-du-jour in the Middle Ages.

Eventually, the tradition made its way to the New World. The industrial revolution ushered in factory-made cards in the 19th century. And in 1913, Hallmark Cards of Kansas City, Mo., began mass producing valentines. February has not been the same since.

Today, the holiday is big business: According to market research firm IBIS World, Valentine's Day sales reached $17.6 billion last year; this year's sales are expected to total $18.6 billion.

But that commercialization has spoiled the day for many. Helen Fisher, a sociologist at Rutgers University, says we have only ourselves to blame.

"This isn't a command performance," she says. "If people didn't want to buy Hallmark cards, they would not be bought, and Hallmark would go out of business."

And so the celebration of Valentine's Day goes on, in varied ways. Many will break the bank buying jewelry and flowers for their beloveds. Others will celebrate in a SAD (that's Single Awareness Day) way, dining alone and binging on self-gifted chocolates. A few may even be spending this day the same way the early Romans did. But let's not go there.

By: Arnie Seipel | NPR |


Roseann d (178)
Thursday February 13, 2014, 8:43 pm
Very interesting. Thanks Kit!

pam w (139)
Friday February 14, 2014, 10:11 am
How could anyone resist a drunk, naked man who was smeared with fresh blood as he whipped you with the hides of the poor beasts he just killed?

No WONDER there were so many Romans.


Yvonne White (229)
Friday February 14, 2014, 12:43 pm
It's all fun & games til someone loses a heart!;)

divergent revolution (309)
Friday February 14, 2014, 1:27 pm
most holy days (holidays) have an unusual and tainted past
thanks Kit
Happy Love day!

SuSanne P (193)
Friday February 14, 2014, 2:26 pm
TY Kit as I now know why every V.Day was disastrous in one way or another throughout my life. The last time I truly remember the exact day was the day I finally blew out my knee to smithereens which ended my career and left me lost. I have never thought of it as a "holy day" but agree with you Tasunka about many Celebrated events. This will be an interesting evening for those who participate, as the moon is full! Off topic, I joked in my e-card about having a date. I meant I have never celebrated it and chose to go on a tour of the olive groves on Saturday when my best (male) friend coincidentally asked me to go out to supper tonight! WE AGREED to boycott it! I hope those who know me understood the meaning intended-probably not!

SuSanne P (193)
Friday February 14, 2014, 2:30 pm
"Today, the holiday is big business: According to market research firm IBIS World, Valentine's Day sales reached $17.6 billion last year; this year's sales are expected to total $18.6 billion."
Roses anyone???

Kit B (276)
Friday February 14, 2014, 2:30 pm

Sometimes a touch of the macabre puts things into perspective.

Yvonne White (229)
Friday February 14, 2014, 2:38 pm
No pain, no gain? Chicago knew how to make a statement..;)

SuSanne P (193)
Friday February 14, 2014, 3:19 pm
Stars to Kit and Yvonne for both posts! Unable to send them again today:)

JL A (281)
Friday February 14, 2014, 6:11 pm
Yup--history often gets a makeover

Stephen Brian (23)
Friday February 14, 2014, 7:35 pm
Here's a bit more about how murky the origins of Valentine's Day are:

Lynelle Romaine (108)
Friday February 14, 2014, 7:35 pm
Thanks for the information.

Past Member (0)
Friday February 14, 2014, 7:52 pm
No wonder the Romans died out

Angela J (61)
Friday February 14, 2014, 7:58 pm
Very interesting.

Angelika R (143)
Friday February 14, 2014, 8:45 pm
Yeah, I read that 2 days ago..shocked me actually. amazing over and again how society can twist history, benefitting commerce! Thx for posting-so I didn't need to!

Past Member (0)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 2:13 am
Like almost all modern rituals and holy day.s they have there roots in paganism.

Past Member (0)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 5:51 am
one of the many reasons that ya gotta love NPR for exposingthe purported roots to our current traditions

. (0)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 8:46 am
Noted. Another holy day to celebrate crass commercialism.

Deb E (63)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 11:43 am
All holidays in the United States are big business. And many got their beginnings in not so fantastic ways. I'd never heard about this one, though, so appreciate just one more reason to not feel guilty if I don't send out Valentines greetings. This year will have been the last time for me after reading this.

I've always felt that Hallmark was the creator of holidays in this country. And now, the company has been joined by every store that stocks their shelves endlessly with holiday "cheer" items in their support of Chinese labor markets being exploited. It really is beginning to feel as if everything about this country is a farce. Thanks for the enlightenment on this subject, Kit.

Lonsdale Moon (124)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 12:27 pm
Any excuse to empty our wallets, especially when prices go up on these questionable holidays/celebrations. I think 8 million was spent in Australia - imagine how much good that money would do if it was diverted to something really worthwhile. Flowers die, chocolates get digested, cards get thrown out or shoved in a shoebox, so what do you really have left at the end of the day except a memory. If 18.6 billion dollars is spent on a commercial free for all, then I think we have our priorities wrong.

Past Member (0)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 1:11 pm
that's all comsumerism

Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 1:15 pm
Shakespeare knew about the Lupercalia, it is made a point of in Julius Caesar, Act I -
Scene 1, Marullus {a Roman Tribune}: "You know it is the Feast of Lupercal."

Scene 2, Caesar: "Calphurnia..... Stand you directly in Antonius' way
When he doth run his course. -- Antonius."
Antony: "Caesar, my lord."
Caesar: "Forget not in your speed, Antonius,
To touch Calphurnia, for our elders say
The barren, touched' in this holy chase,
Shake off their sterile curse."
Antony: "I shall remember.
When Caesar says, 'Do this,' it is performed."
Caesar: "Set on and leave no ceremony out."
[Without the benefit of a University Education that at the time would have covered Classical Greek & Roman knowledge, Shakespeare was an impressive reader and also had learned Latin in his schooling, which was conducted in Latin in those days...]

Leanne B (46)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 1:26 pm
Interesting thanks!

. (0)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 1:34 pm
It would take the Romans to distort the Greek goddess of love Aphrodite and her child Cupid.

Ken O (55)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 1:35 pm
Yet another "Christian" holiday modernized for milking by the retail machine. And, as with other "Christian" based "holiday's" it has nothing to do with reality. When are people going to learn?

Shan D (49)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 1:50 pm
"No wonder the Romans died out" (Debbie S.)

Please read a history book. The fall of the Roman Empire had absolutely nothing to do with Valentine's Day, or with any of their rituals.

Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 1:56 pm
The holidays and all that hoopla really got their start from the Educational system in this country.
Faced with an immigrant population of schoolkids from all over the country, from many different cultures, many different religious backgrounds, speaking many different languages at home, the problem to be faced was, to make this second generation of immigrants into "Real Americans", a unified "melting pot" result - Diversity wasn't the big deal in those days, but exactly the opposite was the ideal sought after!

These kids from divergent religious backgrounds had celebrated various religious holidays which unified their communities in observance and festivities. Now, obviously, the many different holidays, on different dates, of Catholics, Protestants, Greek Orthodox, Russian Orthodox, Jewish, and so many other faiths, could NOT be the source of the "unity" sought.
Therefore, the school year - somebody had the bright idea! - was to be marked by ITS OWN Holidays, that all the second-and-third-and-so-on-generations of children of immigrants could observe {in ADDITION to those of their own Communities and Faiths}. There was one for each month. That seemed about right. {Ever wonder why there are no such Holidays in AUGUST???}
So, on Easter you had Easter bunnies and eggs - from some secular European traditions - while you could celebrate the Catholic, Protestant, Russian Orthodox, etc., Easter at home. On February, the kids cut out paper hearts. On May Day, they made paper baskets and flowers. Christmas and New Years, Santa Claus and Baby New Year - again, in addition to the religious celebrations of the families. September was back-to-school; July was the great Patriotic holiday for Americans {but no school then!}; March they had to find something, so "St Patricks' day" became paper shamrocks and leprechauns. Oh, and Thanksgiving day was again a "National Holiday" like July 4th; and "Halloween" was paper pumpkins and witches and candy. That about took care of it! the entire School Year.
These holidays were "adapted" from various religious and pagan "traditions" of various cultures - those most suited for school kids and school resources, e.g. paper and written materials and "learning". The religious and pagan became "secular". The bloody and the sexual content of these "traditions", as well as the specifically devout, was obviously off-limits and carefully screened out!
Such original components as animal and human sacrifice, getting drunk or high on various substances, wild orgies for "fertility" - these were DELIBERATELY FORGOTTEN, and the whole thing "Infantilized" in accordance with 19th-and-20th-century views of children's "Innocence"... And simplified down to easily-teachable and easily-assimilated "sound bites" if you will...

FINAL CHAPTER, Very EARLY the Department Stores of the time, and other Commercial Ventures such as paper and stationary companies, booksellers, etc., saw the HUGE POTENTIAL MARKET and went to town, in their "Seasonal Advertising" and "Seasonal Stock" - which they have been ENTHUSIASTICALLY DOING ever since... gets worse & worse every year..... and now, of course, even in cultures where these things are TOTALLY FOREIGN IN EVERY WAY, such as Japan, India, China, etc. - the Middle Classes, wanting to emulate the U.S., see this as an excuse to spend their money and Consume Conspicuously.....
Whole thing is ARTIFICIAL. From top to bottom.
There is no sense to having "a seasonal holiday every month" - except the COMMERCIAL SENSE.
Pagan and "Primitive" cultures celebrated the natural events of the yearly seasonal agricultural cycle - the Solstices, the Harvest, the Return of Spring, etc.
Christian cultures had a whole Calendar of Saints' Days and Holidays from work - celebrated basically by partying and leisure-time activities - or by praying, if that was your thing. Jewish communities, also, altho of course different ones - but a whole Yearly Calendar of their own.
This thing of the sequence of pumpkins and then pilgrims and then Santa Claus and then funny paper hats and then hearts and then shamrocks and then Easter eggs..... that is ARTIFICIAL and NON-SPIRITUAL and our Commercial interests have come to DEPEND ON IT.....

Eva C (18)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 2:10 pm
Just an other reason for commerce to blossom

Angela J (61)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 2:14 pm
It's just a fun holiday now.

Birgit W (160)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 4:09 pm
Thanks for sharing Kit.

Rose Becke (141)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 4:17 pm
Amazing Kit

Kate Kenner (215)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 4:35 pm
I'm not sure which is more unattractive-the history or the modern day holiday with all those damn hearts and cards. Maybe I have just been single too long or I am not a fan of all the Hallmark hoopla surrounding it. Really I am tired of commercial holidays.

Barbara Tomlinson (431)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 4:46 pm
From a comment on the article:

"The top illustration is NOT of Valentine or any Christian martyr. It's from a medical treatise and shows a physician directing his assistant to treat female patients. I doubt the women are being given love potions...."
That's exactly what I saw and thought also, the subjects are wearing medieval WOMEN'S clothing and hairstyles {or covered hair} and there is no "killing" of anybody that anyone can see....

Makes one wonder how THOSE pictures were chosen!

Jeremy S (3)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 5:08 pm
Scratch the surface of religion--any religion--and you'll always find a dark underside.

Jeremy S (3)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 5:10 pm
Sorry, clicked on Submit before I meant to there. The origins of Valentines Day were unknown to me--and frankly horrifying. Surprising, t\though? Perhaps not.

Nelson Baker (0)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 5:31 pm
Interesting. Thank you.

marie C (163)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 5:33 pm
Thanks Kit Fascinating

Past Member (0)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 7:31 pm
Never mind the Romans still rule through the Vatican, the corporation, religion, dogmas, Zionistas, Ashkenazis, USA corporate. Politics. Innocent the 3rd I think subjugated the Royals of Europa :) and has claim to the earth and all it's welath and resources for the Fictional Jesus..all else is smoke and mirrors, democracy, hah, drug to put you to sleep. Illusion. Fascist corporate papal global go ahead and scream..:) The Nazis won.:) Rule you and me and all mankind, while extirpating those they deem as inferior..the power of belief alright..:) Atrocities. :)

Colleen L (3)
Saturday February 15, 2014, 11:35 pm
Interesting. Thanks Kit

Past Member (0)
Sunday February 16, 2014, 2:17 am
Interesting, ty.

Justin M (2)
Sunday February 16, 2014, 5:32 am

Panchali Yapa (26)
Sunday February 16, 2014, 5:40 am
Thank you

Winn A (179)
Sunday February 16, 2014, 10:07 am

M B (62)
Sunday February 16, 2014, 11:34 am
I agree with Angelika R.

Eternal Gardener (745)
Sunday February 16, 2014, 4:05 pm
I still perceive it as dark and muddled, fore it is just a mode of commerce that perpetuates our infatuation with capitalism!

Michela M (3964)
Sunday February 16, 2014, 4:34 pm

Diane K (134)
Monday February 17, 2014, 5:14 am
I thought there was a story behind Valentine's Day, but not anything like this history. Thanks for sharing, Kit

Jamie Clemons (282)
Tuesday February 18, 2014, 10:41 am
Go back far enough there seems to be pagan roots to almost every holiday.
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