Valentine’s Day is celebrated worldwide as lovers’ day. There are different versions of this holiday’s origin depending on who you ask. Some say it was a pagan festival while others honor it in memory of a Christian saint. Here are the accounts.
Valentine’s Day As a Roman Festival
According to the first story, the Romans invented Valentine’s Day in the 3rd century AD. It was a pastoral holiday in honor of the god Lupercus. In those days, shepherds would take their flocks out to pasture in the outskirts of Rome. There packs of wolves would surround them waiting for stray sheep to prey on. The shepherds believed that their god Lupercus was watching over them, guarding their herds from the wolves. Every year in February they held a festival called Lupercalia to secure the god’s continued favor.
Hardly suggests why this would make the Romans the inventors of Valentine’s Day! But a curious detail about the Lupercalia is telling: During the same festival, girls would put their names in a box and boys would draw lots to see who gets paired with whom. The partners would be a couple for the whole year that followed. This practice was held to honor the goddess Juno.
Valentine’s Day Becomes a Christian Festival
After some time, Christianity took over the Roman empire. To facilitate the spread of their religion, Christian priests changed the names and meanings of the Roman festivals. To replace Lupercalia, they invented St. Valentine’s Day. Instead of girls’ names in the box, now there were names of Christian saints. Each lad who drew a saint’s name had to devote a whole year to imitating that saint’s life. Undoubtedly this was much less appealing to the general public. Some time later the girls regained their place in the Valentine’s box, no doubt to the delight of both sexes.
Which Valentine Is It?
To further confuse the issue, several saints bore the name of Valentine. It is not clear who among them became the paton of lovers. One story tells of a priest named Valentine living in the time of the emperor Claudius. The emperor was busy fighting several unpopular wars at the time. And unfortunately he made the men and boys of his empire do the fighting for him. The draftees got tired and refused to fight, preferring to stay home with their wives. Claudius retaliated by banning marriage. But Valentine defied him and wed several couples. He was arrested and went to jail where he died.