Flowers, chocolates and cards have become synonymous with Valentine’s Day. But while the February 14 holiday has become a commercialized venture in modern times, it is rooted in pagan ritual, Victorian customs and Chistian history. Regardless of which tradition you ascribe the romantic holiday to, Valentine’s Day remains rife with mystery and lore.
For those unfamiliar with the origins of Valentine’s Day, below are three lesser-known facts you need to know before you celebrate:
Valentine’s Day is believed to take place in mid-February to commemorate the death of Saint Valentine; however others say the church looked to the pagan celebration of Lupercalia to decide when to celebrate.
The ancient pastoral festival, celebrated on Feb. 13-15, honored Faunus, the god of fertility. Men would sacrifice a goat for fertility and a dog for purification. They would use their hides to gently hit young women under the belief it would make them fertile. Afterwards, women would place their name in a jar. Roman bachelors would pick names who would be their match for the entirety of the festival and possibly longer.
At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius banned the celebration of Lupercalia and made February 14 the day when Saint Valentine was celebrated.
According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there are three different saint named Valentine, all of whom were martyrs. One was believed to be a priest jailed for helping Christians. He fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, whom he sent love notes to, and was later beheaded on the Flaminian Way outside Rome A second man who shared the name Valentinus was a bishop in Terni, near Rome, who was martyred.
The third and most popular St. Valentine was a Roman priest under Emperor Claudius II who continued to perform marriages despite the fact they were banned, as the emperor believed Roman men were not joining the army to stay with their families. After Valentine was imprisoned he may have befriended the emperor, but was sentenced to death after he tried to convert him. Valentine was beaten to death with clubs, according to Catholic tradition, on February 14 around the year 270.
The romantic origins of Valentine’s Day date back to the Middle Ages. One of the oldest Valentine’s Day poems was written by Charles, Duke of Orléans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. February 14 was seen as the start of birds’ mating season in France and England, which lent itself to the romantic interpretation of the holiday.
Valentine’s Day was removed by the Catholic liturgical calendar in 1969, yet some parishes continue to celebrate the Feast of St. Valentine. In the western world, the holiday has become commercialized, with an estimated $19 billion spent on gifts this year in the U.S. But in other parts of the world, Valentine’s Day has negative connotations. For instance in India, a handful of conservative groups are opposed to Valentine’s Day, seeing it as a threat to Hindu values.
"We are not against love, as we are the country which has spread love all over the world,” Hindu Mahasabha leader Kaushik told IBN Live on Feb. 12, “but we are against the Western influence on our society."