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Thursday, February 8, 2018

The Strange and Sordid History of Valentine's Day

Alisha McDarris



Love it or hate it, Valentine's Day is weird. Like, really weird. Not so much these days, what with all the red and pink and hearts and candy, but if you head back to medieval times and look at where some of the foundations of this holiday came from, you might be in for a surprise. Personally, we're not really that into Valentine's Day; never have been. Except for when mom would make us truffles. That we were into. Dad taping balloons and flowers to our lockers in middles school when our egos and reputations were painfully fragile? That embarrassment we could have done without. (Although in hindsight we can see clearly how adorable and parent-brag worthy that was.) But we are into strange and sordid history and pointing and laughing at folks who base romantic escapades on it. Wanna know what we're talking about? Course you do. Check out these weird facts and histories about Valentine's Day:

1. Valentine's Day may or may not celebrate a dude that was martyred
On the 14th of February, as a matter of fact. Of course, Saint Valentine could possibly have been two different men, maybe even three. Nobody seems too sure about this point. But we think it's a guy from Rome who was beheaded for helping couples get married in secret. Or possibly a Christian martyr who's last written words were to his love from, "Your Valentine." Seems like a stretch, but what are you gonna do? These days, he's the patron saint of happy relationships, but also beekeeping, epilepsy, fainting, and travel. What?

2. Valentine's Day may be a product of the classic Church declares new holiday to replace pagan Lupercalia
The church did this a lot back in the day, Christmas included. They'd be all fed up with the pagans celebrating in the streets, so they'd find a way to make the holiday their own and make a bit more palatable. Lupercalia was a fertility festival in Rome in mid-February during which, among other ghastly rituals, men would slap women and crops with bloody goat hide to make them more fertile. Not sure how that worked out for them, but seeing as they didn't have birth control yet, they were probably pretty prolific with or without the flayed animal flesh.

3. Love literally involved the luck of the draw
Part of Lupercalia may have also involved all the single ladies (cue the Beyoncé) putting their names in a pot to be drawn from. The local dudes would draw and the couple hooked up for a week or a year or some such nonsense. So much for a woman's right to choose.

4. The holiday is official
In 1537, King Henry VII declared February 14 officially St. Valentine's Day. Whew. Think of how close we might have come to not spending hundreds of dollars on fine dining, flowers and jewelry every year! No seriously, think about it. Men spend an average of $150 on gifts each year. Women only about $75. Guess we're just thrifty that way.

5. People freaking love cards with cheesy hearts on them
Valentine's Day is the second largest card-giving holiday. That's according to Hallmark. They would know, right? Let's assume the first is Christmas. And I'm told this love-lettering showed up all the way back in the 1400's, but mass production of Valentine's Day cards started in the 1840's when some lady started cutting up her grandmother's good lace and pasting it to red cardstock. Of Course, Hallmark didn't step in until the early 1900's, but I guess that's probably when all the romantic handwritten letters stopped. Thank goodness for other people expressing your feelings for you!

6. Valentine on display
St. Valentine (don't ask us which one) is supposedly on display at several cathedrals around Europe. They call that sort of thing "reliquaries," but really, it's just bones put on display so people can be like, "Oooh, is that the skull of St. Valentine? Maybe if I can just stand next to it my beekeeping business will finally succeed!"

You do you this Valentine's Day. But seriously, maybe avoid drunkenly charging up and down city streets with bloody strips of animal hide. Girls don't like that.

Alisha McDarris / Author & Editor

Alisha is a freelance writer and photographer based in Austin, TX. She loves her tiny house, vegan food and experiencing the community of travel in far away places. She’s also pretty sure she’s addicted to coffee. [Portfolio]

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