Valentine's Day: From Purification to Romantic Gestures

Held annually on February 14th, Valentine's is a celebration of love. While most of us celebrate Valentine's Day by giving our loved ones mementos and love-filled tokens such as flowers, cards and chocolates, the holiday has quite a dark past. Valentine's Day wasn't always a celebration of lovers. Believe it or not, it once was a Pagan springtime festival named Lupercalia.


Celebrated each year on February 15th, Lupercalia was known as the spring festival of purging and purification until the end of the 5th century. This particular festival got its name from the members of the Luperci, an order of ancient Roman priests that would congregate in a sacred cave during this celebratory period to revere the she-wolf (or lupa) said to have nurtured and cared for the founders of Rome when they were just babies.

A goat would also be sacrificed by the priests during this festival in hope of an increase in fertility and a spiritual “washing” of the city. They would remove the goat's hide, cut it up into strips, dip those strips in the sacrificial blood and then run up and down the streets gently slapping women and the crops of farmers with the bloody pelts. Women were not as afraid as you might imagine, as being touched with a piece of the hide was believed to increase their chances of conceiving by boosting their fertility.

According to ancient legend, young ladies who were of age to marry and give birth and who were living in the city during the time would submit their names and put them in a giant urn. Rome's most eligible bachelors would then select names from the jar, thus becoming paired up with their chosen women for the following year. Often times these matches would result in marriage.

To disguise and “Christian-ize” the festival of Lupercalia, Pope Gelasius designated February 14th as Valentine's Day. There has long been speculation whether this day was named in recognition of a saint or not. And apparently there are three Saint Valentines mentioned in The Catholic Encyclopedia. Unfortunately, not much is known about these three saints, therefore leaving many unanswered questions regarding the choice of Pope Gelasius.


Though it was called Valentine's Day, the holiday wasn't necessarily associated with romance just yet. Once the Middle Ages rolled around, most of the French and English people believed that February 14th marked the beginning of the birds' mating season. This is when Valentine's Day began being associated with love and romance. By the 18th century, friends and lovers were exchanging gifts and handwritten letters to express feelings of gratitude and passion. By the year 1900, pre-printed Valentine's Day cards began replacing notes that were written by hand. Here in the U.S., the holiday took hold in our society when Hallmark Cards produced their first valentines in 1913.

Today, Valentine's Day is celebrated in most Christian countries throughout the world. Since the invention of the printing press and the explosion of the gifting industry, westernized countries see an economic jump in the billions during the month of February due to a large majority of their populations purchasing cards, candy, jewelry and other tokens of love. 

Feb 07, 2019 Staff

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