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Large companies and small businesses start stocking their shelves and filling their inventory boxes with red and pink trinkets way before it is even mid-January, ready to capitalize on what is meant to be a meaningful holiday. People in relationships start making reservations at restaurants and hotels. They distract themselves from work and pay close attention to what kind of candy they should get for their loved one. Do they buy the giant Ferrero Rocher? Or do they stick to the good old-fashioned candy heart? They get cozy online; Instagram posts and Snapchat stories of happy couples, giant bouquets, and sugary captions take the internet by storm. People who don’t celebrate the holiday gain likes in the form of sassy Valentine’s memes. Grumpy old couples complain about the fuss younger couples make in the name of love, claiming to have never done it before themselves. But we all know that’s a lie. 

The celebration associated with romantic appreciation seems normal yet, it has been ingrained in our minds as a tradition as old as time. While it is easy to believe that the origins of Valentine’s Day were full of pink pansies and chubby cherubs, the reality is much darker. The dark origins of a generally cheerful holiday is what makes it all the more beguiling.

Let’s start with Ancient Rome, where it was always a fun time if you belonged to the upper class and enjoyed violence. During the reign of Emperor Claudius II, there lived a Saint named Valentine. The Roman emperor, who was probably a warmonger, decided that single men made better soldiers than married men, and therefore outlawed marriage for younger men. Valentine did not approve of the unfair law, and he secretly performed marriages for young couples. His actions, however, were discovered by Claudius, and it was decided that the Saint would be put to death. Legend says that Valentine sent out the first-ever “valentine” to a girl he was in love with while he was imprisoned. Many believe that he signed it “From your Valentine”, and that was the start of the usage of the popular phrase.

The commemoration of St. Valentine’s death was celebrated in the middle of February in the form of a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia. Lupercalia was dedicated to the Roman god of agriculture and the founders of Rome – Romulus and Remus. The celebration was disturbing to, say the least. Picturing a priest from Ancient Rome sacrificing a goat and a dog is not the most picturesque of scenes. The sight of anyone dipping the hide of a domestic animal into “sacrificial blood” is enough to induce both screaming and disgust. The imagination of men slapping women with those bloody hides to make them fertile should be found only in a Stephen King novel. But, it was normal. And it was how Valentine’s Day was celebrated. 

The evolution of Valentine’s day into the heavily capitalized festival it is today is vague. Many believe that it began to change in the Middle Ages when people started exchanging handmade cards with love notes delicately placed inside. Its history is not very important today, but it is indeed interesting to know that the gooey-est of holidays shares something in common with Halloween. Now that you know of its origins, MGK’s song might make a bit more sense to you.

Happy Valentine’s!

Hi! I’m a Sri Lankan student studying in the US; I love dogs, biology, spicy food, debate, bullet journaling and the color purple. You might find me obsessing over Sherlock and The Big Bang Theory, or drawing characters from Disney’s Tangled :)
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