This was going to be a totally different post but as I began researching the origins of Valentine’s day I inadvertently tumbled down a rabbit hole and quite frankly, was shocked.
My initial questions were; where did Valentine’s day originate from, why do we celebrate it now, and are we truly honoring the traditional meaning of Valentine’s day in the way we celebrate it today.
To answer that last question briefly, no – thank God. The first question’s answer is a little bit more intriguing and also explains why it’s a good thing we don’t still celebrate the way our ancient predecessors did…
Pagan influence –
Animal sacrifices, a sexually-charged celebration, violence, gore and lots of nudity – I present to you the pagan festival of Lupercalia. While the origins of Valentine’s day are cloudy at best, historians widely agree that it has roots in this pagan festival honoring the Roman fertility god, Faunus. While the celebration we know today has clearly been through many changes and modifications, the idea of coupling and romance still resonate.
During this festival which took place every February 15th and has been traced back as far as the 6th century BC, animal sacrifices of goats and a dog were performed as a fertility rite at the beginning of spring. Using a strip of the hide from the sacrificed goat, men would run around naked whipping any woman who came close enough with the strip of hide, thus granting them fertility. During the feast (and here is probably where we get our present day notions of coupling for Valentines day from) bachelor men would choose a woman’s name out of a jar, they would become a couple for the duration of the feast and sometimes stay together the entire year until the next feast of Lupercalia. Some of these couples would get married.
So yea…the one day a year that sends singles into a fit of depression and FOMO and launches wives’ expectations of their husbands into the stratosphere is based loosely on Lupercalia.
Now for the namesake, which has an even more convoluted history.
We’ve all heard that Valentine’s day is named after Saint Valentine, who married young lovers in secret despite the law forbidding it, and that his attempt to convert emperor Claudius II to Christianity caused him his death. Legend has it that he wrote a love letter to the daughter of his jailer just before his beheading and signed it “from your Valentine,” and the phrase is still used in our present day celebrations.
Another theory is that our modern celebration didn’t begin until around 1400, when English poet Chaucer wrote about “birds and humans” finding their mates on Saint Valentines day, as there was no record of a Valentine’s day celebration before this point. Also, as there were multiple “Saint Valentines,” it’s unclear exactly which one was being celebrated.
From pagan origins, to a day that is just downright depressing to some people. Valentine’s day has such a dark and cloudy history that it’s a wonder why we still, as a nation, recognize it as a holiday.
My point is this (and I’m looking at you single ladies), please do not be upset on this day, please do not pine for something someone else has. I am married and we don’t celebrate Valentine’s day – and we never have. Couples who do go out to dinner to celebrate, how romantic can that possibly be? Long waits for tables because every other couple has the same idea and a tinge of disappointment stinking up the place as lofty expectations are unmet.
Celebrate Valentine’s day if you want, or don’t. Though after reading this post I’m not sure why you’d want to! 😂