The Real Story Behind Valentine’s Day | Engraved Gifts For Valentine's Day
The Real Story Behind Valentine’s Day
Nowadays, Valentine’s Day (February 14) is celebrated as the ‘day for lovers’. It’s the second largest gift giving-oriented holiday, seconded only by Christmas. Although originally a primarily British and American holiday, the practice has become internationalized, with different countries around the world celebrating the holiday, each in their own unique way.
Most people know that Valentine’s Day is supposedly a Christian feast day – for a Saint named ‘Valentinus’, where the eponymous holiday is named after. But there’s an even older origin to Valentine’s Day that a lot of people don’t know about. Let’s take a brief journey through history and find out the real story behind Valentine’s Day.
If in Rome…
The earliest origins of Valentine’s Day can be traced back to the Feast of Lupercalia – a Roman pastoral fertility festival that was celebrated from the 13th to the 15th of February. The Feast of Lupercalia, also referred to as ‘Februa’ (literally ‘purging’ or ‘purification’), was done in commemoration of three distinctive legendary characters in Roman belief – the culture-hero Evander, and the brothers Romulus and Remus. It was also, even more directly, a festival dedicated to the fertility god Pan, whom the Romans referred to as Lupercus.
Even Earlier Origins
The cult of Lupercus has origins that predate even the founding of Rome itself. The Lupercalia was said to date to antiquity, with the oldest variant of it being a Greek Arcadian festival called Lykaia. According to ancient lore, a statue of the god Pan was said to have once stood in Lupercal cave in the southwestern foot of the Palatine Hill – the very same cave where the brothers Romulus and Remus were suckled as infants by a female wolf. This very same cave was also said to have been the founding place of Rome itself.
More Bloodfest than Lovefest
The Feast of Lupercalia curtailed blood sacrifices (which was a very common thing back in the day). This ritual involved a specialized group of priests called Luperci (literally, ‘the brothers of the wolf’), who, under the supervision of the Flamen Dialis (a high priest of Jupiter or Dispater), would sacrifice male goats and a dog on the Lupercal altar.
This was followed by consecrating two of the Luperci with the blood of the sacrificed animal, which was marked with a ritual knife onto their foreheads. Their foreheads were afterwards wiped clean with wool soaked in milk, and they would let out a laugh or smile at one another.
Strips of skin called februa from the sscrificed animals dipped in their blood would be made and handed to the two anointed Luperci. The two would then run naked or semi-naked in a counter-clockwise direction along the old Palatine boundary, flaying every person they encountered with the skins. Women in particular sought the flaying, believing that if they are marked by the blood from the februa, they would be ‘fertile’ and healthy for the coming year. Men and children were also hit with these blood-soaked thongs, in the belief that it would bring the men virility, and the children good fortune.
Having completed the circuit of the city, they would return to the Lupercal cave, and the ritual would end.
From the 13th to the 15th of the month, fetes of merrymaking, drinking, and casual hookups were quite commonplace. A later practice developed where the names of all of the single women in Rome were placed inside a large jar, and a line of young eligible bachelors drew lots from it. Whichever name was drawn from the jar would be that bachelor’s ‘partner’ for the duration of the three day feast. Sometimes, these arrangements even lasted a whole year, and would often end up in engagement, and later, marriage!
From Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day
The transition from Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day occurred during Rome’s slow but eventual conversion to Christianity. The Lupercal festivities were eventually superimposed with a legendary martyrdom commemoration, for a saint supposedly named ‘Valentinus’ or ‘Valentine’.
Historical accounts however, show that there wasn’t just one, but probably up to two saints by the name of ‘Valentine’, each of them having been allegedly martyred on the 14th of the month, in circa 269 and then again on the same day in the year 273 AD.
Not So Old, But Not So New…
The modern practice of giving gifts and Valentine’s Day cards isn’t all that modern either. The earliest record of the practice dates back to the Middle Ages. The famous Middle Ages author Geoffrey Chaucer even makes mention of it in as early as 1375. By the middle of the 1400s, Valentine’s Day cards, often hand-written or specially commissioned, became in vogue.
This practice persisted in the royal courts of England, and would later be adopted in the royal courts of France by the early 1700s. With the coming of the Victorian Era, the practice of giving hand-written cards would also be supplemented with the gifting of bouquets and chocolates – a practice that would remain in fashion to this very day.
And that is how Valentine’s Day came to be. It's not too late — you can still shop for your loved one this Valentine's Day! Check out our customizable wooden watches for affordable Valentine's Day gifts!