An ambiguous history of Valentine’s Day

Winnie Caskey, Distribution and Archieve Manager

Valentine’s Day is celebrated world-wide on Feb. 14. We know Valentine’s Day as a day to celebrate love. We give cards, candy and other gifts as proclamations of our love, but the origins of the holiday are not well-known. In fact, I have discovered the facts to be veiled in ambiguity.
Ancient Romans celebrated Lupercalia from Feb. 13 to Feb. 15. The men would sacrifice a dog for purification and goat for fertility to Roman gods. They would then don the goat skins and run through the town with whips made from the skins dipped in blood and slap the fields and the woman as they ran by. It was believed to encourage fertility with crops and child-bearing. It is also said that the single women would place their names in a large pot and they would be paired off with the single men for the rest of the festival, and sometimes for the year.
Another celebration, by women during the Galenalia Festival was dedicated to a Roman goddess. At the end of a long winter, the women no longer needed the men to take care of them, and so the men were sacrificed! Then the women would feast and travel together on a sojourn in search of spiritual enlightenment.
With the rise of Christianity, the festival was banned and an attempt to replace it by a more “christian” holiday. A remembrance day dedicated to martyred priest St. Valentine. Although there are possibly three Valentines,’ the stories are quite similar and it is debated whether there are several or one.
Over time, thanks to the poets, romantics and shrewd businessmen, Valentine’s Day has morphed into a billion-dollar candy, card, trinket and jewelry business. It is no longer recognized by any Christian church as an official holiday. It is now a day to celebrate romantic affection. Women have ceased killing their inessential boyfriends, men no longer pair up with stranger’s whose names were drawn from a jar, and men do not run through the streets whipping woman with strips of leather… or at least it is kept less public now.

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