Fri. Dec 3rd, 2021

Valentine’s Day is the ultimate day to acknowledge and celebrate various forms of love, specifically the romantic kind. American stores begin to stock their shelves with chocolates, candy, and massive teddy bears as soon as they can move Christmas paraphernalia out of the way. It’s a Super Bowl for card venders, florists, and jewelers as people scramble to find the right gift to express their eternal love. But how did February 14 turn into a commercialized holiday in the United States? Valentine’s Day’s rise to fame is an intriguing trip with lover lotteries, brand building, and more.

A Brief(ish) Look at V-Day’s Origin Stories
Many historians connect Valentine’s Day’s origins to Lupercalia, an Ancient Roman festival held on February 15. The festival (which may have predated Rome) would celebrate the dawn of Spring, a season of fertility and growth; it was also a celebration of Juno, the pagan goddess of love and marriage. People would ward off evil spirits and purify their land, often sacrificing animals at the cave where, according to mythology, the twins Romulus and Remus were breastfed by the she-wolf Lupa. This is where Romulus supposedly founded Rome.

A collection of priests known as the Luperci would preside over the festival with goat and dog sacrifices. Two Luperci would have their foreheads touched with a bloody knife before it was wiped with milk-soaked wool. They would cut thongs from the skin of animals and run nearly naked, striking women and supposedly making them fertile.

Women would be paired off with men via a lottery to celebrate the holiday in ways one would expect. A modern-day Lupercalia reference (albeit a loose interpretation) can be found in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina season two. On the show, the witches and warlocks are paired together for The Courting, a night of “unholy” abstinence, before giving way to the Hunt, which ends with sex.

There’s also the obvious historical connection to the holiday’s namesake, Saint Valentine. Several accounts about the details about his life and exploits may even suggest multiple St. Valentines. First, there’s the account of a priest who was imprisoned for ministering to Christians in the third century before Christianity became a predominant religion. He allegedly gave sight to a blind girl and sent her a note signed “Your Valentine” before he was martyred on February 14 in 270 AD.

There are also stories about a Bishop of Terni during that time period. He secretly married Christian couples to help the husbands evade enlistment in Rome’s pagan army. He supposedly cut hearts from parchment paper to give to the men to remind them of their vows and God’s love. Needless to say, this story ends the same way with Saint Valentine’s death on February 14.

Valentine was actually a common name so it’s not impossible for there to be two different men with similar missions. But it could also be various tales about the same man. Either way, this later led to The Feast of Saint Valentine on February 14, which Pope Gelasius used to replace Lupercalia in A.D. 496. All of this provides a basic explanation for how it became a major day.

A Day of Love and the Rise of Commercialization
In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the day started to become associated with romantic and courtly love similar to spring’s lovebirds. Some historians attribute this to Geoffrey Chaucer, an English poet. Around the 1370s or 1380s, he wrote “Parliament of Fowls,” which contains a line about Saint Valentine’s Day being the day for a bird to choose their mate. This inspired nobles to write letters known as “valentines” to their love interests. Around 1599, Shakespeare’s Hamlet makes a direct connection between St. Valentine’s Day and being someone’s Valentine.

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