As we take some time to celebrate the season of love, some of us may ask, “where did Valentine’s Day come from?” Some historians believe it actually originated, like many holidays, from an ancient pagan festival. The festival, called Lupercalia, was traditionally celebrated on February 15th.
Lupercalia was a bloody and violent, yet sexually-charged event, complete with ritual animal sacrifice and random matchmaking in hopes of warding off evil and infertility. To kick off the holiday, men randomly chose women’s names from a jar to be coupled with during the celebration. Oftentimes, many of the couples stayed together until the following years’ festival, and some even fell in love and got married.
In addition to the random coupling, the Lurperci, a group of Roman priests, performed the ritual sacrifices of at least one male goat and a dog. After, the blood of the animals would be smeared across the foreheads of two of the Luperci, then wiped away with a milk-soaked piece of wool.
But where did these traditions come from? Legend has it, that Lupercalia was created to honor a she-wolf. But not just any she-wolf.
In the 6th century B.C., King Amulius ordered the deaths of his twin nephews, Romulus and Remus, in exchange for their mother’s broken vow of celibacy. The twins were to be thrown into the Tiber River to drown. However, the servant ordered to do the deed could not bring himself to do so. Instead, he placed the infants in a basket and into the river. The river god then safely carried them downriver where they were found and cared for by the she-wolf.
Eventually, Romulus and Remus were discovered and taken in by a shepherd and his wife. When they grew older, they took revenge on their uncle, King Amulius, killing him for ordering their death. It was then that they came across the den in which the she-wolf had raised them, at the base of Palatine Hill, and they called it Lupercal.
It is thought that the festival of Lupercalia was created to honor the she-wolf, as well as please the Roman god of fertility. Now, you might be asking how all of this relates to Valentine’s Day…
In the late 5th century A.D., Pope Gelasius I declared February 14th a day to celebrate the martyrdom of Saint Valentine, instead of Lupercalia. However, he likely did not mean for the holiday to be a celebration of love. But traditions of humans hold strong, and we now have a mashup of several celebrations in one.
Even the colors of Valentine’s Day, red and white, pay homage to Lupercalia. Red represents the blood from the ritual sacrifices, while white is the color of the milk used to wipe away the blood, and also represents new life and procreation.
So, what do you think? Has Lupercalia left its mark on us and influenced the way we celebrate Valentine’s Day? Leave your thoughts in the comments below!
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