Valentine's Day has become the day for love in
American culture, when sweethearts buy cards, candy, flowers, and
romantic dinners to prove their devotion to the one they adore.
Like many other common holidays, however, Valentine's Day has
roots in the ancient festivals of our European ancestors.
The holiday of romance has roots in an ancient
Roman fertility rite known as the Lupercalia. Celebrated on Feb.
15th, the Lupercalia was a fertility rite in honor of the gods
Lupercus, Faunus (associated with Pan) and the founders of Rome,
Romulus and Remus. The celebration began at the Lupercal cave,
where the wolf Lupa was said to have suckled the infant Romulus
and Remus. Afterward, priests would sacrifice a goat (symbol of
fertility) and a dog (symbol of protection) to the gods, anoint
themselves with the blood, and run through the streets whipping
onlookers with a thong made from the goat's skin. The whipping
was believed to help ease childbirth and promote fertility.
Also during the festival, young men would draw the
names of eligible girls from a pot or urn. These couples would be
paired up until the next Lupercalia, often in intimate ways. This
drawing of Valentine lots continued into the Middle Ages in
Europe. The young man would wear the slip bearing his Valentine's
name on his sleeve, and attend to the lady with flowers, gifts,
and words of affection.
As Christianity became more prevalent, the
celebration of love became associated with the patron saint of
love and couples - St. Valentine. No one has verified the
original Valentine to whom the day is dedicated, although two
likely candidates have emerged. One Valentine, a priest during
the reign of Emperor Claudius, was jailed for secretly marrying
couples in defiance of orders from the Emperor that all marriages
be stopped. This Valentine was jailed and died in prison for his
devotion to love.
Another Valentine was jailed for helping
Christians during the 3rd century AD. In prison, he fell in love
with the jailer's daughter and cured her of blindness. He was
executed on February 14th, 289 AD. All of the Valentine stories
were finally combined, and in 496 Pope Gelasius declared Feb.
14th in honor of St. Valentine.