You Wanted to Know About Valentine's Day, But Were Afraid to Ask
A History of Valentine's Day and It's Origins
Like most things in ancient history, the information available today is largely based
on the fact that:
The winner gets to write the history, which may or may not be what really
happened. And then there is the issue of the history being retold by somebody who enjoys a
Consider what you are about to read as falling in the last category and
enjoy the stories!
Why do we have a Valentine's Day? What does it have to do with the goddesses?
We probably owe our observance of Valentine's day to the ancient Festival
of Lupercalia which celebrated erotic, or feverish, love in honor of the Roman goddess
Juno. Some experts say that the name of the month February actually comes from the Latin
word "febres", meaning feverish, as in the word "febrile".
Remember the legend of Romulus and Remus who were raised as infants by a
pack of wolves and grew up to be the founders of Rome...well, supposedly all this
childrearing occurred in a cave on the hillside which was called "Lupercallus"
or "Wolf-Cave" in translation.
The Festival celebrated the founding of Rome, and a pagan priest led the
festivities, which included his "whipping" all the women to ensure their
fertility. Another part of the celebration involved a "lottery" in which the
names of the unmarried females names were drawn from a hat (or other suitable container)
by the available young males and they were "paired" for a period of time, some
say a year. This matchmaking was designed to honor Juno, the goddess of love and marriage.
(Note: Accounts vary considerably regarding the duration and nature of
these pairings, but it definitely functioned as an early version of matchmaker.com.
Historians say the practice of the "lottery" continued into the 16th century,
with people drawing anonymous valentine cards at valentine celebrations. I think they
underestimate the time period--we were still "drawing" our valentines from a
bowl in my grade school class, and I'm certainly not that old!)
Who was Saint Valentine, and what did he have to do with romance and marriage?
Revisionist theory tells it this way: Turn the clock forward several
hundreds of years to 270 A.D. Claudius II was the Emperor of Rome, which had seen its
"glory days" and was now being threatened on its borders by the Goths and within
its borders by the Christians. Claudius definitely needed his army to be at full-strength,
and for some reason felt that married men did not make good soldiers (perhaps they were
going AWOL for conjugal visits). He used his authority as Emperor to "ban" the
practice of marriage and the Festival of Lupercalia as well (since it was contributing to
the high incidence of marriage that was destroying his militia).
Interestingly the Emperor Claudius and the Christian (Catholic) Church
found themselves on the same side on this argument for the Church was also opposed to the
pagan festivities, but on grounds related to its lustfulness and especially the practice
of the "lottery".
Obviously it was a dangerous time to be a Christian, not to mention a
priest. Valentine was part of the Christian underground and, in defiance of the Emperor's
edict, continued to marry couples in secret. He was found out and imprisoned.
There must have been something "special" about Valentine,
because Claudius himself supposedly took the time to visit him in prison and try to
convert him to the worship of the pagan deities. Valentine wasn't swayed by the Emperor's
arguments, and instead tried to persuade Claudius (and all his jailers) to convert to
Christianity. The Emperor was not amused and ordered that Valentine's execution (by
beatings with clubs) proceed as scheduled. Such was the martyrdom of the priest, which
eventually led to his being canonized or "sainted".
Who sent the first Valentine card?
None other than Saint Valentine himself! Legend has it that while he was
in prison, preaching to the guards, one guard brought in his daughter who was blind and
Valentine restored her sight. She became a regular visitor and friend. Just before his
execution, Valentine wrote a letter to her and signed it "Your Valentine".
This letter, the first Valentine, is now on exhibit in the National Museum
(Ed. note: St. Francis de Sales, fearing for the souls of his English
parishioners during the 16th century, sermonized against the practice of sending
Valentines. Apparently, the practice had already become quite common and commercialized.)
Where did Cupid (the chubby little guy wearing diapers who appears on all the
Whether it was the Church, or the Patriarchy in general that considered
the pagan religions such a threat, they embarked on a highly successful campaign to
dethrone the Olympians by "cutting them down to size", rewriting their stories
and deflating their public images. Think of it as "spin control", or an early
version of "shrinkydinks".
In this case it was the Greek god Eros, the son of Aphrodite, the goddess
of romance and beauty, and Ares, the god of war.
Admittedly, Eros was once a bit of a "mamma's boy" . . . at
least until he married Psyche, who managed to make him grow up in a hurry. As a married
man, he had to give up his silly habit of going around shooting everyone with arrows
dipped in love potion . . . arrows that made them fall in love with the next person they
saw, no matter how ridiculous or impossible the union would be. Even so, he was a man, a
god, and a power to be reckoned with. Today all that's left of him is Cupid, that little
fat cherub with the bow and arrows, who was once a handsome and manly god.
Why is Valentine's Day on February 14?
It was based on the date of the death of Saint Valentine (Feb 14) and the
Festival of Lupercalia (Feb 15). The Emperor hated the festival for military reasons. The
Church disapproved of it too, but for other reasons...and the Church was a bit more
"subtle" in their approach to trying to get rid of it. Having their celebration
a day earlier than the festival was a clever idea!
Church policy in dealing with the ancient religions included a strategy of
incorporating, rather than just banning, the "old-time religions". And it proved
to be an effective strategy. Many contemporary church rituals and holidays are actually
based on earlier pagan celebrations. "Draw a circle around them and include them
in" was the church's policy. So the church essentially co-opted the old pagan
Festival and turned it into to a religious holiday celebrating the Christian virtues of
love and marriage.
Like so many other holidays, Valentine's Day was eventually co-opted
again, this time by "commercial interests". And so it is today, when we buy and
send valentines to all sorts of people for whom we haven't the slightest marital,
romantic, or lustful feelings.
Whether we celebrate it as a Festival of Love, A Saints Day, an excuse to be
romantic (or just to binge on chocolate), it's clear that Valentine's Day meets some deep
need in our psyches, and is likely here to stay.
So . . . On that note, we have got to say:
Love Ya! Be good to yourself, and Have a Happy Valentine's Day