Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, and all around us are bright displays of hearts and flowers and candy. On Feb. 14 we shower the objects of our affection with gifts, but our Valentine’s Day celebration is rather boring compared to the original. Valentine’s Day has a long and colorful history rooted in paganism.
During ancient times, what we call Valentine’s Day was the Festival of Lupercalia, and a beloved would have received lashes from a thong made of goat skin instead of a box of chocolates. Lupercalia, also known as the “festival of sexual license,” according to The Restored Church of God at www.rcg.org, was celebrated by the ancient Romans on Feb. 15. The festival honored Lupercus, god of fertility and protector of herds and crops. During Lupercalia, male priests called Luperci sacrificed goats and dogs in the cave where Romans believed Romulus and Remus were raised by a she-wolf. (Romulus and Remus were the founders of Rome.) The priests, dressed in loincloths made from sacrificed goats and smeared with sacrificial blood, ran through the streets of Rome, striking women with thongs made from skins of sacrificed goats. It was believed that the floggings purified women and increased their fertility. In reality, it probably just increased their anger. The goat-skin thongs (thongs were not skimpy underwear at that time, they were strips of leather for smacking impure women) were called februa, which is why the month is called February.
February was also the time for honoring the goddess Juno Februata, according to www.care2.com. Juno Februata was responsible for the “fever of love,” and her festival was celebrated on Feb. 14. The Juno Februata celebration involved young women writing their name on a small piece of paper called a billet. The billets were put into a container and young men would draw a billet at random. The boy and the girl whose name was drawn would spend the rest of the year as sexual partners. The Romans sure knew how to party.
When Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire around A.D. 325, Rome’s pagan festivals were no longer acceptable. The church tried to do away with the Festival of Lupercalia and the celebration of Juno Februata, but the Roman citizens wouldn’t give them up. In A.D. 496, unable to convince the citizens to drop the celebration, the church “Christianized” the festival by naming it after a saint and whitewashing its origins. Thus it became St. Valentine’s Day. The sexual lottery aspect of the holiday became a much tamer tradition of sending cards with romantic messages.
So remember, even if you don’t get what you’re hoping for on Valentine’s Day, you probably won't be face-slapped with a bloody goat skin, either. Be grateful.