Animal Sacrifices, Saints, and Lingerie: A History of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is a multi-national holiday observed primarily in the United States, the UK, France, Australia, Canada, Mexico, and is gaining popularity across the globe. Although Valentine’s Day is loosely associated with ancient European traditions, it is best known as a veneration of romantic love that has a strong foundation in popular culture. Chocolate, lingerie, flowers, and expensive dates characterize many of the consumerist practices that reinforce the economic value of the holiday. While people of all ages celebrate Valentine’s Day with various degrees of propriety, many are not aware of the titillating history behind the infamous day.

Historians believe that rudimentary celebrations of Valentine’s Day began with a Roman fertility festival called “Lupercalia.” After sacrificing goats and dogs to fertility gods, a sect of Roman priests used bloody strips of animal hides to whip naked women in the streets of nearby villages. Couples were formed through a random name-draw in what could be the world’s first mass dating venture.

Valentine’s Day gained another historical origin when early Christianity came into contention with the Roman Empire. Catholic lore narrates the life of a persecuted Christian named Valentine who wrote romantic poetry to his Roman jailor’s blind daughter. Valentine supposedly restored the girl’s vision before being beheaded on February 14th, thus earning him a reputation as a saint. In addition to being the saint of lovers, Valentine became the patron of beekeepers and epileptics. However inspiring the story of St. Valentine may be, the Roman Catholic Church recognizes almost a dozen vague historical figures by the same name.

So is Valentine’s Day a covert Christian holiday? Not quite. Due to the imprecision of ancient history, the Roman Catholic Church removed St. Valentine from their general calendar in 1969, a fitting numeric date to address matters of love and romance. Does the Catholic Church have a sense of humor? Maybe.

Though St. Valentine lost his place in the Roman Catholic Calendar, Valentine’s Day continued in countries undergoing the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 70s. Economic magnates like Victoria’s Secret and Hallmark Cards capitalized on the opportunity to sell romance-related merchandise to eager consumers. Since then, clever marketing campaigns have harnessed unlimited human emotions concerning love and desire to sustain the annual holiday. Americans are predicted to collectively spend about $20.7 billion dollars on Valentine’s Day in 2019 alone. According to recent data, men will spend twice as much as women, averaging about $230 on gifts and dates.

Valentine’s Day has survived several thousand years of history and evolved from pagan fertility rituals to a multi-billion dollar phenomenon. Whether you slap your loved one with freshly sacrificed animal skin (consensually, of course) or buy her gifts worth $230 dollars ($115 if you’re female), be sure to thank the mysterious St. Valentine for bridging ancient hedonism to modern sexual traditions. Practice safe sex, always ask for consent, and treat yourself if you end up spending the holiday alone.

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