More than a few historians believe that Saint Valentine’s Day has pagan origins, namely the Lupercalia, an ancient Roman celebration of fertility and purification. In the ancient world, Immaculate Conception was a foreign concept (a concept any of your catholic friends would be happy to explain.) When the Romans celebrated fertility, they did “it” with gusto, meat and a-lot-of-wine.
Every year on February 15th Luperci priests gathered on the Palatine Hill at the cave of Lupercal. A procession of Vestal Virgins brought sacred cakes made from the first harvest of grain from the year before to the cave. Two naked young men, assisted by the Vestal Virgins, sacrificed a dog and goat at the site. The blood from the sacrifice was smeared on the foreheads of the young men and then wiped away with wool dipped in milk.
The young men then dressed in loincloths made from the skin of the sacrificed goat and led groups of priests around the sacred boundary of the ancient city, around the base of the hills of Rome. The festivities were happy and somewhat raunchy. As the young men ran around the city, they lightly struck women along the way with strips of goat hide. It is from these tools of purification that February gets its name. They were called “februa”. Being struck by the “februa” provided purification from curses, bad luck, and infertility.
In the case of the Lupercalia, young ladies would participate in a lottery by putting their names in an urn. Then the city’s eligible bachelors would pick a name and become paired with that particular young lady. (Leave it to the Romans to invent a sex lottery) They were paired for a year. Some say this might be the origin of what we know today as the first Valentine’s Day card!
Around 486 A.D. Pope Gelasius (who more than likely was chagrined by the sex lottery concept) declared February 14 Saint Valentine’s Day. (A clever move which transformed the pagan traditions of both the Lupercalia February 15 and Febraury 14 the Day of Juno, goddess of women and marriage, into one Christian holiday.)
Some believe that though the Church managed to change the outside of the Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day a symbol of clandestine yet matrimonially sanctioned love; on the inside of Saint Valentines Day, the pagan part of it is still very much alive and well. Cheers!
Certified Sommelier, General Manager, President Liane was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. She graduated from the Kamehameha Schools in 1977, and worked in the bookkeeping department of Villa Roma, a women’s retail clothing store owned by her mother Audrey Fu, before flying off to college in New York City. She was a physics major at New York University (NYU). In her first semester, she attended a concert that was interpreted for the deaf. She became fascinated by the idea of communication through movement which for her was kind of like hula on steroids.