Valentine’s Day approacheth; the time of year when lovers shower one another with gifts of chocolates and flowers, romantic dinners and Hallmark cards. The one day a year to officially celebrate your love—one day to spend a week’s worth of pay for something that should be done every day.
But where did Valentine’s Day come from? I found one website that has an interesting take on the origins of the day of love; www.np.org has an article written by Arnie Seipel called “The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day” in which Seipel describes Valentine’s Day as a progression from paganism to the current commercialized holiday.
Seipel said, “From Feb. 13 to 15, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain.” He further explains that young women would actually line up to be whipped by the men as they believed it would make them fertile.
Also attributed to the evolution of Valentine’s Day is the martyrdom of two men, both named Valentine, on February 14, in different years. These men were later canonized by the Catholic Church. Like history says of Christianity, the Catholic Church—according to Seipel—combined St. Valentine’s Day with the feast of Lupercalia in order to stamp out the pagan ritual.
Valentine’s Day continued its progression from paganism to commercialism through Shakespeare and Chaucer romanticizing the holiday in their works. In Chaucer’s “The Parliament of Foules” he writes:
For this was sent on Seynt Valentyne’s day
Whan every foul cometh ther to choose his mate.
Shakespeare mentions Saint Valentine’s Day in “Hamlet” when Ophelia sings:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine.
Both of these authors portray Valentine’s Day as a day of fertility and romance. Hallmark continued the tradition of poetic love in the form of mass produced cards which are now bought in the billions. Personally, I’d rather have a thoughtfully drafted love note than chocolates, but chocolates beats being flogged with the hide of a dead animal any day of the year.