Valentine's Day (CS-3)

Nowadays, we generally celebrate Valentine’s Day with a box of chocolates, a fancy dinner, a cand-o-gram, or a simple note asking, “Will you be my Valentine?”  However, the origins of this holiday differed greatly.  Though the earliest form of Valentine’s Day, the feast of Lupercalia, was in the ballpark of what they considered to be “love” in the third century A.D., you will be surprised at the drasticity of the changes of that term since those times.  Also, on a side note; although there are many parts of the background of Valentine’s day, they do all connect and align to make one main history; it is just a little fuzzy in some parts.  After you’ve read this article, you should hope to know a little more of the origins of Valentine’s Day, including the Feast of Lupercalia and who Saint Valentine was, and hopefully how this relates to world history and connects to the Roman Empire and the Christian faith (considering I am writing this for a grade in my AP World History class).

What was The Feast of Lupercalia?

Valentine’s Day is believed to come from an ancient Roman tradition, the Feast of Lupercalia.  The feast was also known as a “mating festival” due to the fact that one purpose of this ancient holiday was for singles to find a partner and to be “coupled up”.  The festival goers were often looking for a mate to be their future partner or parent of their offspring.  The males would draw the names of their female counterpart.  This part could get a little brutal and gruesome, including, according to Arnie Seipel in The Dark Origins of Valentine’s Day, men hitting on women by physically hitting them, men sacrificing goats and dogs and then whipping women with their hides, everyone being naked, and women lining up to be hit by men believing, “...this would make them more fertile.”  Those couples would then spend the remainder of the ceremony together, talking and getting to know each other better, as would anyone forced into a relationship, and--if all went well--they would continue their relationship after the festival.

Another intended purpose of this feast was to avert the evil spirits and purify the city  in hopes of health and fertility.  This was done in many ways, such as sacrificing goats and hitting women.  Not saying it is a perfect method, but they seemed to think it was working.

Why be Called “Valentine’s” Day?  Who was Saint Valentine?

There are many beliefs and legends for who Saint Valentine was.  Truly, though, there were at least three men named Valentine, who were all martyrs and died by execution protesting for their faith under the date February fourteenth.  However, the following story is definitely one many people have heard and it is by far the most popular among the stories, theories, and conspiracies concerning and surround the beloved Valentine’s day:

According to, leading up to Valentine’s execution in 278 A.D., Emperor Claudius banned all marriage and engagements throughout all of Rome.  He did this because he thought the reason people weren’t joining his armies was because they didn’t want to leave their wives and children behind. Valentine didn’t agree and saw much injustice in the situation so he immediately sprung into action.  He was defying Claudius, also known as Claudius the Cruel, and was secretly performing underground weddings for young lovers in desperate want to be married and spend the rest of their lives together.  When Claudius found out what Valentine had done, and to what extent, he immediately sentenced him to the death penalty and gave him a first class ticket to death row.  Valentine was sentenced to be dragged and beaten with clubs, just before having his head chopped off on February fourteenth late in the third century A.D.  (As a side note, this is generally the person we are referring to when we mention “Saint Valentine”.  It is this story that will most generally be used and remembered.)

What was the Catholic Church’s Impact? How Does This Connect to World History?

Since this blog post is for my AP World History class, I feel inclined to relate what I already know about the holiday Valentine’s Day to what I already know about world history, specifically the Roman Empire and the influence of the Catholic church over that said empire (along with all the information I looked up).  The Catholic church had a lot of influence, not over just Valentine’s Day, but the entire Roman Empire, at the primary time of conversion.  The third century A.D., the time of Saint Valentine and Emperor Claudius, also known as Claudius the Cruel as I stated earlier, was just before Emperor Constantine converted all of the Roman Empire to Christianity circa 312 A.D.  (It is believed Constantine converted the empire after becoming emperor due to his mother’s strong Christian beliefs, which subsequently rubbed off on him.)  This is significant because, just as Christianity was beginning to gain speed and relinquish more converts, it had increasingly more influence over political, non religious matters for the first time, such as the Feast of Lupercalia and then holidays.

A prime example of this astonishing influence is the fact that the holiday, Feast of Lupercalia, was in the debacles of the name and date of the new holiday.  Though the holiday was originally named the Feast of Lupercalia and took place from the thirteenth to the fifteenth of February, it is now called Valentine’s Day and is solely alone on the Fourteenth of the same month, February.  We have the Catholic church to thank for this.  The Catholics wanted to remember Saint Valentine for his love of love even after he was executed.  Therefore, they named the holiday after him and moved the date of it to the anniversary of the day he was beaten and executed.

How is the Holiday Celebrated Now?

Nowadays, as I said earlier the holiday is typically celebrated by giving loved ones candy, specifically chocolate.  People have been giving boxes of chocolates for a long time, but why?  According to Rebecca Earle of Warwick University, “Giving a young woman a box of chocolates a way for a man to demonstrate his affection, while at the same time displaying his good taste and discernment in selecting a particularly suitable box.”  This information basically gives way that young men can and will be judged on the type of chocolate they get their ladies.  All I can say is use this information accordingly, boys.

Another suitable favor often given on Valentine’s is a nice, fancy, romantic dinner, whether it be at a five star rated restaurant or a home-cooked meal a loved one spent hours slaving over and protecting.  Either way, both are incredibly kind, thoughtful gestures.

All in all, Valentine’s day has always been associated with love, or, at least, certain interpretations and perceptions of “love”. From fighting to the death for partners to fighting in the supermarket over a box of chocolates, people really have done anything for their “love”.  Thank you for reading and don’t forget to display your good tastes and discernment by buying that perfect box of chocolates next Valentine’s Day!

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