When we think about Valentine’s Day, our minds drift to heart shaped balloons, red roses, chocolates, and perhaps oversized teddy bears that say “I love you” when squeezed. It’s a time of love for those young and old, to focus on romance and fiery passion. The truth is, Valentine’s Day has far more to its history than bon-bons and bouquets, with origins dating back to ancient—yes, ancient—times.

Roots in Rome

Before there was a “Valentine’s Day”, there was Lupercalia. This festival, held in mid-February in Rome, was a celebration of the coming spring. The Roman’s celebrated spring through its metaphorical association with fertility. As such, fertility rites were held, and couples were paired together through lottery. Held February 15th, it was supervised by priests referred to as Luperci, hence the name Lupercalia. While the origins of the holiday are relatively unclear, it is likely derived from the word lupus—Latin for wolf—and connected to the she-wolf who famously nursed Remus and Romulus, helping to found the civilization of Rome itself. Harry Potter fans will be reminded of the famous character, Remus Lupin, who was a central figure in the series.

Becoming St. Valentine’s Day

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, Lupercalia would eventually be replaced by St. Valentine’s Day. They expand:

“At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day. It came to be celebrated as a day of romance from about the 14th century.

Although there were several Christian martyrs named Valentine, the day may have taken its name from a priest who was martyred about 270 CE by the emperor Claudius II Gothicus. According to legend, the priest signed a letter “from your Valentine” to his jailer’s daughter, whom he had befriended and, by some accounts, healed from blindness. Other accounts hold that it was St. Valentine of Terni, a bishop, for whom the holiday was named, though it is possible the two saints were actually one person. Another common legend states that St. Valentine defied the emperor’s orders and secretly married couples to spare the husbands from war. It is for this reason that his feast day is associated with love.”

Valentine’s Day for the Modern World

By the 1500s the concept of sending formal messages, or valentines, surfaced. Nearly 200 years later, valentines hit the printing presses and became commercially produced for the holiday. Valentines were adorned with hearts, flowers, as well as the Roman god of love, Cupid. Over time, birds also became associated with the holiday due to the idea that the mating season of birds happened around the holiday.

Valentine’s Day is popular around the world, with participants in the US, England, Australia and Canada. It has also caught in in countries like France, Mexico, South Korea and Argentina.

So this Valentine’s Day, as we gaze into our loved one’s eyes, we’ll recall the beautiful and rich history of this lovely Holiday.

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