The Origin of Valentine’s Day

The true meaning behind all things Valentine

Mason Dunleavy, Opinion Writer

Oh, the joyous time of Valentine’s day. Several weeks before February 14th the stores are littered with pink, white and red, the seemingly symbolic colors of Valentine’s day. Seeing this every year has me questioning the true meaning of this yet another hallmark holiday.


This question takes me back to the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia. The earliest story of Lupercalia was found to be dated around 500-600 B.C., with several origins still being disputed. The story revolves around the twins Romulus and Remus, the rumored founders of Rome. The twins were ordered to be thrown into the Tiber River due to their mothers’ disloyalty to King Amulius. Instead of being thrown, the twins were placed into a basket by a merciful servant. It is stated, “The brothers were then rescued and cared for by a she-wolf in a den at the base of Palatine Hill where Rome was founded.” After being adopted and raised by a shepherd, the boys returned to the cave and named it Lupercal. The festival is said to be for the god Lupercus, god of fertility.


This cave also became the site for the festival’s precursor entertainment and appeasement, the common ancient practice of animal sacrifice, mainly goats as they represented sexuality. After the sacrifice came the feast and the whipping of the women. Unlike what we think of as whipping, this whipping was accepted and welcomed as it represented fertility.


So, what were these women whipped with? Freshly cut goat strips.


Who were they whipped by? Mostly naked priests named Luperci, not to mention, also just smeared goat blood on their foreheads and wiped it off with milk-soaked wool while laughing, you know, as tradition follows.


Shortly after, all the single men would randomly pick a woman’s name out of the jar and the two would be matched over the time of the festival. This would often follow with the two pairing for at least a little while.

As it turns out, we see the festival of Lupercalia everywhere around Valentine’s day. The only thing the Christians took from Lupercalia during the persecution of Pagans in the late Roman Empire, were the colors red and white to represent the holiday. Those colors are symbolic with the day as I mentioned before, apart from pink.


Want to know what they represent from Lupercalia? Red represents the blood from the animal sacrifice, and the white represents the milk-soaked wool used to clean the blood, how romantic.


Now onto the namesake of the holiday, the mysterious St. Valentine. The most common and most believable story of Valentine unravels under the rule of Claudius around 3rd century A.D., rather late in the Roman Empire. Claudius led constant military campaigns causing the morale of his troops to diminish progressively through time. Seeing morall at an all-time low, Claudius thought it was the troop’s wives making the troops disobedient.


How does he solve this problem? Oh, just ban marriage throughout the empire.


Now emerges Valentine, who proceeded to marry young lovers against Claudius’ decree. Valentine was eventually discovered and put to death, only after he was dragged through the streets of Rome and beaten with clubs. To top it off, they cut off his head. There is also a story of Valentine leaving a note to his jailer’s’ daughter before the execution reading, “From Your Valentine.” For his heroic service, the church named Valentine a saint.

So why do we celebrate Valentine’s day instead of Lupercalia? During a rough time to be a Pagan, Pope Gelasius stopped the Pagan festival and replaced it with Valentine’s day to celebrate Saint Valentine, except he made February 14 the celebration day instead of the 15, take that Pagans.


So, whether you believe Valentine’s day should be about Pagan fertility rituals or about a rumored saint, it shouldn’t be about love. Because if you only devout one day to love, what are you doing all the other days? Happy Valentine’s day everyone. Enjoy your goat-blood-red decorations.