Feb 14, 200608:07 AMThe Life
1737 years ago today
Feb 14, 2006 - 08:07 AMValentine's Day probably originated with the ancient Roman feast of Lupercalia. During Rome's early days, fierce wolves roamed the nearby woods, so Roman citizens called upon one of their gods, Lupercus, to keep the beasts away. A celebration to honor the god was held every February 15th. One Lupercalian custom for young Romans was name-drawing: on the festival's eve, names of eligible girls were written on slips of paper and placed into jars. Each young man drew a slip, and the chosen girl would be his sweetheart for the year.
Legend has it that a priest named Valentine was trying to spread the new religion of Christianity in Rome during the reign of Claudius II. The Emperor decreed that his soldiers were NOT to be engaged or married, reasoning that men who were romantically involved would prefer to stay at home with their families, rather than fight his wars. Valentine defied the edict and continued to perform marriages in secret. When Claudius found out, he ordered that Valentine be put to death.
While awaiting execution, Valentine fell in love with his jailor's daughter, a young woman who visited him in prison. Before his beheading on February 14, 269 AD, it is said that he wrote her a letter and signed these words: "From your Valentine."
After his martyrdom, Valentine was canonized (declared to be a saint). As the Church gained more power in Rome, the holiday was moved from the 15th to the 14th - St. Valentine's Day. This was in keeping with the Church's usual strategy of eliminating pagan feasts by co-opting them (Yule to Christmas, Beltane to May Day, etc.), so the modern celebration honors Valentine instead of Lupercus.
[Factoid 1: Valentine's Day is also known for the infamous 1929 massacre orchestrated by Al Capone. Factoid 2: the Greeting Card Association estimates that women purchase more than 80 percent of all valentines. Duh.]