Valentine’s Day is a much celebrated holiday in our modern culture. We just love smelling flowers, eating chocolate, and sharing love notes. Apparently, we love it so much that the National Retail Federation estimates we will spend $18.2 billion on Valentine’s Day this year.
Have you ever stopped to think about where all this came from? Why do we celebrate this beloved holiday? The real truth behind the origins of Valentine’s Day may surprise you.
The Feast of Lupercalia
Originating in ancient Roman times, the feast of Lupercalia was a pagan festival held on February 15. It involved the sacrifice of goats and dogs and actually included the men whipping the women with the hides of the sacrificed animals. It was believed that this act drove out any evil spirits preventing the fertility of the women. We get the red and white Valentine’s Day colors from the blood and milk associated with Lupercalia. Maybe we should stick with pink this year?
There has been more than one man known as St. Valentine throughout history, but most of the credit for the holiday is given to the St. Valentine who was beheaded on February 14 around 278 AD. Roman Emperor Claudius the Cruel had outlawed marriages to build a stronger army. Valentine was a priest who refused this decree and continued to perform marriages. It was for this defiance and his belief in the importance of love and marriage that he was jailed and eventually beheaded.
Stories also circulate that while Valentine was in prison, he had befriended the jailer’s daughter. Supposedly, he wrote letters to her signed “From Your Valentine.” This is likely where our modern tradition of sharing Valentine’s Day cards originated.
Evolution of Valentine’s Day
Pope Gelasius first declared February 14 as Valentine’s Day around 496 AD. It is believed, though, that Chaucer’s poem “The Parlement of Foules” first set the precedence for Valentine’s Day being a romantic holiday. This poem depicts a meeting of birds on Valentine’s Day to select their mates. Since then, countless poets and playwrights, including Shakespeare, have perpetuated the romantic notion of February 14.
Hallmark first offered their Valentine’s Day cards in 1913 and are now producing more than 1,500 varieties of Valentines. They estimate that approximately 114 million greeting cards will be exchanged, not including classroom Valentines for kids.
No matter how gruesome or odd the origins of Valentine’s Day may be, this day gives us an opportunity to share love with those who mean so much to us. Despite the commercialism and hype, we should never miss a chance to stop our busy lives and take a moment to encourage and hearten our spouses, children, and friends.