The emergence of pink hearts, chocolate and gifts signals that Valentine’s Day is around the corner. Couples spend time finding the perfect gift while planning the perfect date. However, the cutesy holiday we all recognize was not always celebrated with chocolates and roses.
Some say that Valentine’s Day morphed out of a Roman holiday called Lupercalia. One of the first known festivals held in 44 BC was a celebration honoring Lupa, the mother of Romulus and Remus. It took place every year on Feb. 15 and contained some pretty bizarre rituals by today’s standards.
Priests, called Luperci, directed the rites that began with the sacrifice of two male goats and a dog. The young Luperci were then anointed with sacrificial blood using wool soaked in milk. Afterward, a large feast took place, during which the Luperci cut strips out of the dog and goat hides called februa (this originated from an earlier ceremony and is where February got its name). The hides were used to whip young girls and women to increase fertility, prevent sterility and reduce the pain of giving birth.
As bizarre as these rituals were, they are only a piece of the history of Valentine’s Day. There are three recognized saints with the name Valentine or Valentinus whom share similar stories of martyrdom within the Catholic Church. There are several theories about the murder of Valentine. Some say it’s because he was secretly performing marriages for young men, which was prohibited by Claudius II, the emperor of Rome around 270 AD. Others say it’s because Valentine fell in love with Claudius’ daughter while imprisoned, and he sent her a love letter on his execution day signed from your Valentine. It was not until the 14th century that Valentine’s Day became associated with love, according to Borgna Brunner, researcher and writer for infoplease.com.
The great poet Chaucer is cited as the first to associate Valentine’s day with romance in his poem honoring the engagement of Richard II and Anne of Bohemia, wrote Brunner. The popularity of the holiday grew steadily until exploding in 18th century England.
Not long after its success in England, the famed holiday came to the United States. Using methods of mass production, Esther A. Howland popularized the tradition of Valentine cards in the States which turned it into a commercial success. The National Retail Federation estimates that Americans spent 19.7 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day in 2016 alone.
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