Fun with History: Valentine’s Day

I am sure you saw this post coming. I just can’t help myself! I have never been a huge fan of Valentine’s Day (it takes away from my birthday weekend lol) but I also don’t hate it. In fact, I find the history of Valentine’s Day interesting.

You might know that Valentine’s Day is named for an early Christian martyr (date unknown). If only it was that simple! There are actually 3 early Christian saints named Valentine (all martyred btw). The most famous legend says that Valentine married young lovers in secret, after the then Roman emperor banned marriage for soldiers. Unfortunately, there isn’t much historical evidence to support this story.

What we do know is that, like many holidays, the early Christian church adopted a traditional pagan holiday and refashioned it into a Christian celebration of St. Valentine. A feast to honor St. Valentine was strategically placed in the middle of February to replace the pagan celebration of Lupercalia.

Here is a quick summary of Lupercalia (via history.com):
“To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would then strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year. Later in the day, according to legend, all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage.”

Lupercalia was officially outlawed by the Pope in the 5th century and replaced with the feast of Saint Valentine. Valentine greetings date as far back as the middle ages, but weren’t written down until the 1400s. The oldest valentine still in existence is a love poem written by the Duke of Orleans to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. But Valentine’s day as we know it, with the exchange of little gifts and cards, wasn’t really popularized until the 1800s.

See… history is fun! Happy Valentines Day (and happy Lupercalia)!

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