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The dark history of Valentine's Day

Feb. 14, 2018
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As we buy our gifts, write our heartfelt cards, and spend a romantic evening with our significant others this Valentine's Day, let us be reminded of the true origins of this magical holiday—you know, when they used to beat women with dead carcasses. Swoon!

Although the history of Valentine's Day is a little unclear, it is believed to have originated in ancient Rome. During February 13th to the15th, the Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia, during which the men would sacrifice a goat and beat the women with its hide. During this naked, drunken festival, the women would actually line up for the men to beat them, believing that this ritual would make them exceptionally fertile.

But it doesn't stop there. As part of their festivities—in a sort of matchmaking game—the men would choose a woman's name out of a jar, and the two would spend, ahem, intimate time together for the remainder of the festival. If they fell in love, they would get married soon after the festival ended. 

During the 3rd century A.D., Emperor Claudius II executed two men—both named Valentine—on February 14th. There are two different legends about who St. Valentine actually was and why he was murdered. It is believed that he was either a priest who ignored Emperor Claudius II’s ban on marriage for the men in his army, or else he was a priest who was imprisoned and fell in love with the jailer's daughter. In this latter version of the story, he sent a letter to his beloved signed "from your Valentine" before he was executed.

In ensuing years, the two executions were honored by the Catholic Church, which threw a St. Valentine's Day celebration to commemorate the occasion. At the time, the celebration had little in common with the ancient festival of Lupercalia, which was used to rid the city of evil spirits by releasing fertility and good health. During the 5th century, Pope Gelasius decided to combine St. Valentines Day with Lupercalia and do away with some of the unsavory pagan rituals.

The first Valentine’s card was believed to have been sent in 1415 by 21-year-old Charles, Duke of Orleans. Charles was imprisoned in the Tower of London, whence he sent a poem titled Farewell to Love to his 16-year-old wife. 

It is believed that Valentine's Day was brought to North America during the 19th century by British settlers. By 1847, the tradition had rapidly spread throughout America, and mass-market Valentine's Day cards were put into production.

Although this holiday has since become very much overtaken by consumerism, let us be grateful this Valentine's Day that our significant other will be buying us dinner and showering us with gifts and loving cards, instead of beating us with dead carcasses in hopes of making us fertile. #blessed!