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The Pagan Origins of Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day is the day of love, right? Not so fast. It didn’t start out that way. Its origins were way weirder than giving your sweetie some chocolates!

Blame it on the Pagans (aka, the Romans)

The possible origin of Valentine’s Day is the pagan holiday Lupercalia – the holiday of fertility. For centuries, it was celebrated in February, most likely between February 13 and 15. It was pretty much debauchery as far as celebrating goes. Men would strip naked and sacrifice a goat and dog. Not sure what getting naked and making sacrifices have to do with each other. Then, boys would then take strips from the sacrificed animals and whip young women with those strips. It was all to promote fertility. Again, not sure what that has to do with fertility, but….

Legalize it

Anyway, Lupercalia was popular and one of the few pagan holidays celebrated 150 years after the Romans legalized Christianity. Apparently, the Romans carried on the creepy pagan tradition of men whipping women with dead animal bits to promote fertility. It even went a step further. The Romans held a matchmaking lottery and the lucky couple would then hook up for the duration of the holiday to see if they were uh, a good fit.

So if it’s a Pagan holiday, why is it SAINT Valentine’s Day?

Goooood question. There are a couple of versions.

Version 1: Apparently, before the Pagans (aka Romans) legalized Christianity, they executed two priests on February 14 – both named Valentine (but different years). They were executed for the usual stuff –performing miracles and not renouncing Christianity in favor of Paganism. Eventually, when Pope Gelasius came to power, he rebranded Lupercalia to celebrate the martyred Saint Valentine. Which begs the questions – which of the executed Valentines was the martyr and what do either of their executions have to do with love?

Version 2: Another version goes that, Chaucer, by dumb luck, may have had something to do with associating Valentine’s Day and romance, in his poem The Parlement of Foules. This, according to Professor Jack B. Oruch at the University of Kansas.

Oh, and let’s not leave Shakespeare out of the mix. He also appears to be an early adopter of the romanticized Valentine’s Day in his works. So, as with all good commercial holidays, handmade cards started to appear and became popular, leading to the multi-billion dollar marketing juggernaut it is today.

Fun Facts:

According to the National Retail Federation, people will spend roughly $21.8 billion on Valentine’s Day 2021. Yes, BILLION people.

The first candy hearts appeared in the mid1800’s.

The Romans adopted the Greek god of love Eros, with a twist. Instead of a grown man, the Romans made Eros into a cute little boy, stuck a bow and arrow in his chubby little hands and called him "Cupid." By the 19th century, Cupid had made the leap to symbolize matchmaking and Valentine's Day.


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