Pagans, Christians, & Holidays of Love

Kayla Person, Student Editor

When people think about the start of Valentine’s Day, the first thing that comes to mind may be the legend of St. Valentine. There are many different renditions of his tale. One story goes that St. Valentine was a third-century Roman priest. When Emperor Claudius II decreed to outlaw marriage because he “decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families”(History.com editors, 2009), Valentine was outraged. He began secretly officiating weddings and marriages, allowing the youth of Rome to live alongside the ones they loved. Eventually, Valentine’s secret treason was revealed and Emperor Claudius sentenced him to death. 

Other stories state that Valentine was killed for helping Christian prisoners escape or that Valentine was a prison inmate himself who fell in love with the daughter of his incarcerator and sent her the very first “valentine” as a way of greeting. 

Regardless of all the legends of tall tales, the truth is that the origin of Valentine’s Day we know now got its start in a very different way. 

Before the creation of Valentine’s Day, there was Lupercalia, its supposed predecessor. Lupercalia was a festival in an ancient Pagan culture that was held, to our knowledge, every year on February 15. Now, there are a few similarities between the two holidays, such as the fact that they are both mainly centered around love. However, many people see Valentine’s Day as a cheap knockoff of Lupercalia. 

The main detail that separates the two is how they are celebrated. Valentine’s Day has always been seen as a very sweet and soft holiday that should be celebrated with candies and hugs. Lupercalia, on the other hand, was a “bloody, violent and sexually charged celebration awash with animal sacrifice, random matchmaking, and coupling in the hopes of warding off evil spirits and infertility”(History.com editors, 2017). 

Similar to Valentine’s Day, Lupercalia’s origin is a bit foggy. There is no universally-known beginning date, but it has been traced back as far as the sixth century. Lupercalia was a very ritualistic festival, with sacrifices and other events taking place in various locations. Many of these rituals were seemingly very private and took place on Palatine Hill in a now-lost location titled Lupercal Cave. After the rituals, many of which were sacrifices including animals, the feasts began. 

The feasts of Lupercalia, like a majority of the holiday, were very unabashed and feral events. Using strips of recently-sacrificed goat hide, the men “ran naked or nearly-naked around Palantine whipping any woman within striking distance with the [hides]” (History.com editors, 2017). 

The main speculation of the public regarding these two holidays is that the Christians purposefully celebrated Valentine’s Day on or around the same day as Lupercalia in an attempt to take over and “Christianize” the Pagan festival. By the end of the fifth century, Lupercalia was officially outlawed and declared “un-Christian”, despite surviving the preliminary rise of the religion. 

In today’s age, the acknowledgment of Lupercalia is becoming increasingly popular alongside the rise of Pagan followers and witches on social media. However, as more people become aware of Lupercalia, the reaction becomes increasingly aggressive and agitated. There are several people that feel very passionately about this situation and perceive the outlawing of Lupercalia as a gory war of forced proselytism or religious conversion when there is no documented proof of an actual battle taking place. The most we know in this day and age is that Lupercalia is commonly seen as the predecessor of the Valentine’s Day we currently know and was seemingly suppressed during the rise of Christianity in Rome.

The origins of these two holidays is a long and complicated one, with a debate that does not seem to be ending anytime soon.

 

 

Sources:

History.com Editors. “Lupercalia.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 13 Dec. 2017, https://www.history.com/topics/ancient-rome/lupercalia#:~:text=Lupercalia%20was%20an%20ancient%20pagan,in%20Rome%20on%20February%2015.&text=Unlike%20Valentine’s%20Day%2C%20however%2C%20Lupercalia,off%20evil%20spirits%20and%20infertility.

History.com Editors. “History of Valentine’s Day.” History.com, A&E Television Networks, 22 Dec. 2009, https://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day/history-of-valentines-day-2.