Lupercalia – the Ancient Origin of Valentine's Day

Topic: FamilyChildren
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Last updated: May 30, 2019

Valentine’s Day and February equal love and romance. In Ancient Rome, this time of year had similar connotations, but they were celebrated very differently. In modern times, the month of February and St. Valentine’s Day has come to symbolize love and romance, and has been celebrated in this gentile way since the days of courtship and wooing of the Middle Ages. But the origin of February can be connected with love and fertility by be tracking back to the roots of ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, a fertility celebration celebrated on February 15.The Lupercalia festival was celebrate to honor Lupercus, a god of fertility and farming, and it was celebrated with annual sacrifices and feasts.

One of the aims of the festival was to purify the land and the young women of child-bearing age. During the Lupercalia, two priests, called lupercis, sacrificed two male goats and a dog at the sacred cave where Romulus and Remus were supposedly nursed by the she-wolf. After a feast, the young men dressed in nothing but a belt with goats’ skins, running through the city streets, whipping people (mostly young girls and women) with thongs cut from the sacrificial goat skins.This act was thought to purify the girls, ensure their fertility, and lessen the pain of childbirth. Names were also drawn from an urn to pair up young men and women as part of the festivities.

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This was intended to lead to marriages and children. February occurred later in the ancient Roman calendar than it does today so Lupercalia was held in the spring and regarded as a festival of purification and fertility. It is implied that purification is how the month of February gets its name (February comes from the latin “Februare” meaning to purify).

The Lupercalia occasion was happy and festive.Another unique custom of Feast of Lupercalia was the pairing of young boys and girls who otherwise lived a strictly separated lives. During the evening, all the young marriageable girls used to place a chit of their name in a big urn. Each young man used to draw out a name of a girl from the urn and became paired with that girl for the rest of the year. Quite often, the paired couple would fall in love and marry. As Christianity began to slowly take over the pagan pantheons, it frequently replaced the festivals of the pagan gods with more Christianity celebrations.

It was easier to convert the local population if they could continue to celebrate on the same days, the only difference was they would just be instructed to celebrate different people and ideologies. Lupercalia, with its lover lottery, had no place in the new Christian order. In the year 496 AD, Pope Gelasius did away with the festival of Lupercalia, citing that it was pagan and immoral. He chose Valentine as the patron saint of lovers, who would be honored at the new festival on the 14th of every February. The church decided to come up with its own lottery and so the feast of St.Valentine featured a lottery of Saints.

After learning the true origin of Valentine’s day, I began to see that many of the gentile ways we show love and romance also goes back to Ancient Rome. Every February 14 since 496 A. D people across the United States and in other places around the world, chocolate, flowers and gifts are exchanged between loved ones, all in the name of St. Valentine.

However, after learning about the Lupercalia festival of Ancient Rome, I can see how it all influenced to our modern day Valentine’s Day.In most cases on Valentine’s Day, the male is the one that chooses a Valentine and approaches her with a gift of flowers or chocolate, just as in the Lupercalia festival the male approaches the female with a whipping of goat skin. To modern day society the whipping of goat skin is seen as a wrongdoing. However,women would gladly received the whipping, as they believed that the touch of the goatskin would render them fruitful and bring easy childbirth.

It is important to understand that each religion and culture has its own ways of “seeing” things.Love is one of the main concerns that each religion sees differently. Ancient Romans saw love through their festival of Lupercalia that contributed to mating, fertilizing, and uniting a man and a woman. Our modern day, Christianized society sees love through celebrations of Valentine’s day and the affectionate ways of buying gifts such as flowers and chocolate. I do not believe that either religion is right or wrong with their celebrations and festivals.

In my opinion, each religion should have its own unique celebration of love and romance.


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