What I Learned Today : Valentine's Day Part 2 : Lupercalia

Last time we learned about the muddled history of Saint Valentine, himself. With so little to go on how did this legend become a major holiday? This next part of the story is debated frequently as well, but keeps us right in Rome.

Lupercalia was an ancient Pagan festival performed mid-February. (I am using past tense though I do believe this is still celebrated in the Pagan community, I could not find very much information on current celebrations.) The legend goes that a woman had taken a vow of celibacy however "found herself pregnant" with twins. It's unclear whether this pact or pregnancy were her choices or not.  The woman was the king's sister. He ordered the boys to be murdered. The enslaved person upon receiving this order thought it was wild and chose instead to put the boys in a basket, dropping it in a river with a prayer.

The two boys, Remus and Romulus were found by a she-wolf and nursed to health. Next, the wolf, with the help of Lupercus, found a shepherd and his wife to raise the boys. Lupercus is the Roman god of farmers, shepherds, harvesting, and wild packs of animals. The twins were raised to be great leaders and soon found out their true heritage. The king's father (the twins' grandfather) helped them infiltrate the castle and kill the king.

While Grandpa now ruled over the kingdom, Remus and Romulus returned to Lupercal, the cave where the she-wolf had cared for them. They named her Lupa and then cared for her. They built twin cities on the site where they had been saved. The brotherly love did not last however, as Remus was slain by his brother. Romulus took over the area, which was named "Rome" after him.

Lupa was hailed for her gifts of fertility (presumably for being able to keep the twins alive; This is the jump I wasn't able to gracefully make in my research). The Romans celebrated with Lupercalia, even having a specific group of priests called Lupreci. The first order of business for the Lupreci was to slaughter a goat or two in honor of Lupercus. They donned clothes from the hides and fashioned straps of a sort, with which to hit willing spectators. The Luperci would parade around town flailing childless women for fertility, pregnant women who hoped for easy birth, and I'm pretty sure a lot of women that were just around.

Lupercalia by Andrea Camassei
In addition to goat hides, there was a lot of nakedness during this celebration of fertility. There was also a feast which is said to have lots to drink as well. I even read of something called "jar partnering" where you would put your name in a jar and be paired up with someone else from the jar. Sometimes these pairs would last the night, a year, a lifetime. Basically this is a festival of good times in possibly the least Christian way.

Some people say Lupercalia, though it's at the same time as Valentine's Day, has nothing to do with it. Others say that in the late fifth century, still in Rome, Pope Gelasius outlawed the Pagan celebration Lupercalia. The same year, possibly in the same announcement, he reminded people of their Saint Valentine who went against state to uphold god's wish of marriage. Valentine was given a Feast Day : every day on the calendar is assigned to a saint. On their feast day, they're celebrated with special mention, prayers, and possibly a scripture reading. A saint's feast day can be the day of their actual death or a day assigned by the Church.

So the church hyper focused people's attention on this feast day, possibly playing it up, in order to compete with the now outlawed naked romp that was Lupercalia. As time went on, why did society continue to celebrate "Valentine's Day" even as the Roman Catholic Church removed Saint Valentine from the General Roman Calendar in 1969 because so little is known about him?

What I hear the most about holidays as I get older is some version of "it's a good excuse to" - for February 14, it's a good excuse to "show my love," "wear lots of hearts," "eat good food," "have a date night." I hypothesize a large part of why we celebrate Valentine's Day is because people enjoy it.