“Ah me, I’m such a die-hard romantic. I just get even more blissed out than usual when Valentine’s Day rolls on by and pauses to stay for 24 sweet hours in our calendar of days. Everything is pink and red and white (just like me!) and sparkly (just like my personality), and so really, what’s not to like? Even if you don’t have a sweetheart of the romantic persuasion in your life, it’s just a love-filled, heart-centered kind of day. And gosh, that’s the regular M.O. of hippies all the time, so I think one day out of the year for us all collectively to celebrate peace, love, happiness, and sparkly things is a good idea.
And because, in addition to being pink, red, and white (it’s my nose and tongue respectively that are the former two colors by the way, just in case you were wondering), I’m also endlessly inquisitive and just looooooooove research. And I want to find out the origins of this day and how it’s connection with romance came to be.
Hmmmm… what a very interesting and colorful lineage. Many historians trace the origins of Valentine’s Day to an ancient pagan festival called Lupercalia, which fell sometime between February 13-15. Although how it initially got started is shrouded in the mists of time, the festival has been traced as far back as the 6th century B.C. and was undoubtedly of Roman origins, as it derives its name from the Latin word for wolf, lupus. Some have posited that the name of the festival is in deference to and celebration of the legend of Rome’s founding— that a wolf nursed two abandoned baby brothers, Romulus and Remus, who grew to adulthood under her care and went on to birth the great city.
Lupercalia was predominantly a fertility festival, and like most of those, it involved animal sacrifice (yikes!). Even though I’m a sensitive pooch, and sad and offended by this, I can still understand the culture of the times from a scholarly perspective and let my affront go. Let’s move on.
People ran wild through the streets, as women were offered benedictions which supposedly made them fertile. It is also said that men selected the names of women from a random lottery, and coupled up with them for the duration of the festival. Well, that’s one very interesting way to do it I suppose! Apparently, many couples fell in love and ended up getting married.
Fast forward centuries. There was a man named Valentine, who was a Christian in Rome when it wasn’t popular to be one, and the Emperor wasn’t too pleased about it. He threw Valentine in prison until he changed his mind, but Valentine didn’t. So the emperor ordered him executed. As the story goes, he wrote a farewell letter of thanks to the kind daughter of his jailer, signing it, “Your Valentine.”
Time passed, things changed, and by the 5th century it was popular to be Christian and decidedly déclassé to be pagan. So much so, that pagan festivals were being almost universally replaced with Christian religious holy days. Almost anyone who had been martyred was canonized a saint, and they all had days to honor them. Valentine was one such saint. Pope Gelasius I instated February 14 as “Saint Valentine’s Day” effectively blotting out Lupercalia.
Today, there aren’t any Christian saint’s days which are universally celebrated except the day for Valentine. But this is where my research hat no longer serves me and I must wander into the realm of speculation. How specifically did this day come to be associated with heart shaped butter cookies and romance? Boxes of chocolates and that special someone? Nobody seems to know, but I sure am glad for this particular evolution. All that running around at Lupercalia would have tired me out!”