Valentine’s Day was a special day when I was in third grade. My teacher would put the names of everyone on my class into a jar, shake it up, pass it around, and everyone would draw a name. That person would be my “best friend” i.e. “valentine” for the rest of that day. In later grades, students exchanged homemade valentines.

But I never really understood where that idea came from. So today, I decided to find out. Valentine was a Christian priest in third-century Rome who evidently had a romantic streak. The Emperor, Claudius II forbade Roman soldiers to marry because he thought that they would prefer to stay at home with their families rather than fight in his foreign wars. Valentine secretly married couples, defying the order.  The Emperor found out and he was imprisoned and eventually put to death on February 14, 269 A.D. After Rome became Christianized, Valentine was made a saint and his day was observed every year as St. Valentine’s Day.

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Photo Credit: History.com

This holiday probably replaced the pagan Roman festival of fertility called Lupercalia. Lupercus was the god of shepherds and his priests wore goatskins. During the festival, those “romantics” were drunk and many ran around naked. The men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. Even so, young women reportedly lined up for the men to hit them, believing this would make them fertile. The brutal event included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. They were “coupled” for the remainder of the festival—and longer, if the woman could put up with the beast!

When the festival was changed to St. Valentine’s day, men’s raucous behavior tamed down considerably. The names of Roman girls were written on slips of paper, put into jars, and drawn by young men. Those girls would then be then man’s sweetheart for the year. That process was not all that different from modern times.

 

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