The not-so-sweet truth behind Valentine’s Day


Mrs. Giancola

Junior Samantha Kinnaird reminds us that Valentine’s Day did not start with chocolates and flowers.

Samantha Kinnaird, Staff Writer

Valentine’s Day has its roots in the Roman Festival of Lupercalia, which was actually celebrated  from the 13th to 15th of February. However, compared to today’s celebration of the holiday, the festival was much darker and bloodier.

Although the exact meaning of the celebration is up for debate, most historians agree it was a fertility festival, during which the people of Rome celebrated the she-wolf god and prayed for another year of healthy livestock. Wolves have a long and important history in Rome. The founders of the city, Romulus and Remus, were said to have been nursed by a she-wolf when their parents died. Wolves only pick out the sick from herds when hunting. So as by sacrificing a few young or old sheep, the Romans believed the wolves would keep their herds from breeding sickly stock.

The main festival would start with a dual sacrifice of a livestock animal (usually a goat) and a dog (to symbolize a wolf). Afterwards they flayed the skin to create small scraps of leather, which women believed brought fertility. The entire festival was filled with drinking, dancing, fighting and couplings. A lottery was made as a way to find matches for single men and women. Some only lasted for the length of the festival; others became lifelong marriages.

So how did this bloody ritual become a favorite holiday of sweetheart couples? Well, we can thank Pope Gelasius I for that. Emperor Claudius II executed a man in the third century who just so happened to be named Valentine. Claudius realized that single men make better soldiers since they did not have to worry about coming home to their lovers. Instead, they took their duty as their wife, and loved their crown and country first. However, Valentine continued to marry young lovers in secret, breaking the law that Claudius had enacted against it.

Valentine was executed for breaking the law, but was given martyrdom by the Catholic Church. As a result, he was given the name Saint Valentine and his day was the 14th of February. In the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I attempted to do away with many “pagan” holidays, including Lupercalia. However, many who believed in the old gods revelled at this idea. This lead to the merging of Saint Valentine’s Day and Lupercalia.

As the times evolved, the holiday became sweeter. The first “Valentine’s cards,” usually being poems, began to circulate somewhere in the 1400s. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized in their works, telling tales of star-crossed lovers. Eventually the tradition would make its way across the sea to the young United States. In 1913, Hallmark would begin the first ever mass production of Valentine’s Day cards and the tradition has only grown since.

Now it is not only tradition to exchange cards and candy, but in some eyes mandatory. The National Retail Federation estimates that more than $18 billion will be spent on Valentine’s Day gifts this year. Of that, $1.76 billion is expected to be spent on chocolate or candy. Today is the day of lovers and is often celebrated with a kiss (a Hershey’s kiss).