The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day

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The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day
The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a time to celebrate romance and love but although no one has pinpointed the exact origin of the celebration, one good place to start is ancient Rome, where men hit on women by, well, hitting them. From February 13th to 15th the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, and then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. The Roman romantics “were drunk. They were naked,” says Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado. Young women would actually line up for the men to hit them, Lenski says. They believed this would make them fertile. The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women then be coupled up for the duration of the festival or longer, if the match was right. The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men — both named Valentine — on February 14th of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day. Later, Pope Gelasius I muddled things in the 5th century by combining St. Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been. Lenski adds, “It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love.”

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