The Grim Ancestry of Valentine's Day

“Will you be my Valentine?” This is a question that many — young and old — look forward to answering. Valentine’s Day is celebrated globally as the day of love in all forms and chocolate-covered everything, yet the holiday’s dark origins aren’t as sweet as one would imagine.

Origin stories can be shocking

A great deal of traditions and societal comforts have odious roots. For example, The Little Mermaid was initially a Danish fairytale by Hans Christian Anderson. In the original story, “Ariel” still traded her flippers for feet, but when she walked it felt as though she was being pierced by sharp knives with every step she took. 

surfing big wave Photo by guille pozzi from Unsplash

She also literally sold her soul to a sea witch to be with a man — which was her only objective in life — and when the prince failed to fall in love with her (in modern terms, he friend-zoned her by saying he loved her like he would a young child), she struck up a deal with Ursula to kill him for her own survival. Her sisters were also a flock of sirens who lured men in just to murder them for their own sick and twisted game. Talk about a childhood ruiner. 

 

Valentine’s Day is no different. It wasn’t always the grand displays of affection, 100 roses and chocolate-covered strawberries like it is now. Although the exact beginnings of Valentine’s Day aren’t known, scholars usually attribute early celebrations of the day to a Pagan Roman holiday known as Lupercalia,  and the slaughtering (yes, slaughtering) of two men named Valentine. 

Lupercalia

Lupercalia was celebrated from Feb. 13 to Feb. 15 and was a festival believed to ward off evil spirits. The holiday’s first known origins go as far back as the 6th century B.C. Roman priests known as Luperci would sacrifice dogs and male goats which represented sexuality.

 

After the sacrifice, the people of Rome would gather to feast on the flesh of the newly sacrificed goats. After they filled their bellies, the men would run around the streets naked slapping women with the remaining pieces of goat flesh. Although this might sound abusive and like a complete display of patriarchy, the women supposedly were down for the strikes as they saw them as blessings of fertility.

couple's feet sticking out the sheets Photo by Womanizer WOW Tech from Unsplash

The festival also served as a matchmaking ceremony. Men would draw women’s names from jars and they would couple off for the rest of the celebration. It wasn’t uncommon for these couples to remain together and eventually marry. This tradition of Lupercalia isn’t as scarring as the others.

Saint Valentine

The history surrounding Saint Valentine is, again, a little hazy as well. But many believe that he was actually two separate men by the name of Valentine who were both executed by Emperor Claudius II on Feb. 14. Both saints attempted to convert people to Christianity, which the emperor did not like, resulting in the men’s beheading.

 

The Catholic Church stepped in and created St. Valentine’s Day in remembrance of both men’s death. It wasn’t until the late 5th century A.D. when Pope Gelasius I combined Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day, expelling the Pagan traditions of Lupercalia. This, over the years, has slowly morphed into the Valentine’s Day of modern times.

Assorted Valentines Day Candies Photo by Laura Ockel from Unsplash

Whether it be fairytales, movies, or in this case, holidays, finding out that the ancestry of jovial events and traditions is more disturbing than expected can be jarring for some. Even though the origins of Valentine’s Day aren’t all “hugs and kisses” like one would hope, it’s still a day to come together and celebrate love with the ones closest. However, one might want to think twice before circling “yes” to being someone’s Valentine.