Thursday, February 12, 2009

Secret History of Valentine's Day

Here we are once again, at the cusp of a holiday which most of us in our civilization have forgotten the meaning of. Sure, we all know what we do, but do we know why? Valentine's Day is that most universal celebrated holiday, which most people know the least about. It has become, for most people, simply an exercise in buying expensive chocolate, or the latest cartoon character inspired cards to give the children to pass out at school. What does it really mean? How did it get started?

It is believed that our modern holiday, now known as Valentine's Day, had it's beginning in ancient Rome. It was a fertility festival known as Lupercalia, widely known for the naughty antics of the Lupercals. These fellows would dress in goat skins and run through the streets, randomly striking all the young females they happened to come across with a long goat-skin thong. It was considered good fortune and a blessing to be struck by this thong, as it symbolically was intended to help bring about better fertlity for the girls. This being the case, the Lupercals did not really have to look hard to find girls to strike, in fact, they would willingly line up for it. Whether their clothes remained on was something else entirely. It was celebrated for an entire week, centered on February 13-15th, co-inciding with another festival dedicated to Juno. There were heavy romantic overtones for the whole festival. I am sure many guys willingly bellied up to the bar to become Lupercals for their favorite girl or girls.

This whole spectacle was a follow on to the Candlemas/Imbolg/GroundHog's day festivals. Where those festivals celebrated the first stirrings of spring, Lupercalia celebrated the first signs of rebirth from winter. In most Mediteranean climates, this was when things started to bud and show life. In more agrarian times, this sort of holiday helped the people connect with the circle of the seasons. When Rome later became Christianised, the feast of St. Valentine was placed in the middle of the Lupercalia festival, presumably to remind everyone to keep their clothes on, so that they would eventually forget the pre-christian holiday.

Nowadays, all we have to remember these flamboyant celebrations are lot's of hearts and little cupid's, who can be seen as socially acceptable representations of the original Pan of Lupercalian origin. It has become a celebration of love and romance, with no mention of the seasons (a loss no doubt contributed by our modern non-agrarian lifestyle).

Whatever it may mean to you, I cannot fault a holiday based on love.

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