Every year, as February approaches so too does the realisation that Valentine’s Day is upon us. For some, it brings excitement, an opportunity to express their love in a palpable manner; for others, their internalised panic is written across their face as they struggle to buy a last minute gift for their partner, lest they face romantic exile.
It is a day of romance, loneliness, love, and celebration combined, but how did it start? If you suspect it did not begin with sentimentally-stamped candy hearts and extravagant jewellery purchases, you’d be right.
According to History.com, the holiday began as a Pagan festival called “Lupercalia”. On this day in February, in order to celebrate the gods of agriculture and fertility, priests would sacrifice dogs and goats in a cave. Seriously.
Reportedly, they would then take those animals, strip them of their skin, and use them to hit local women as a superstitious means of ensuring bountiful pregnancy.
Like any good holiday, this day was eventually bastardised from its original form, first being associated with a Saint Valentine in an effort to Christianise it. The true identity of the man in reference is debated, but the general consensus is that he was a martyred saint. Later, as a result of a common European belief that birds began mating mid-February, the day then became associated with romance and love. In the 1400s, written Valentine’s notes began to grow popular.
Fast forward a few hundred years, and a holiday that once slaughtered animals out of ritual tradition is now sooner associated with Tiffany’s, red roses, and written letters of affection.
Ours is a species that has always worshiped the idea of love, be it the result of biological instinct or an inexplicably ingrained sentimentality. The idealised version of the “soulmate” has spanned literarily as far as Shakespeare to Nicholas Sparks, and we’ve had to endure decades of romantic comedies starring Tom Cruise and Kate Hudson. For centuries, popular culture has convinced us that for every person there is a true match, and Valentine’s Day has grown into an annual opportunity to embrace (or conform to?) that belief.
Whatever the reason, should you decide to sit out on the holiday this year, take comfort knowing that while you may not be eating gifted chocolates, at least you’re not sacrificing puppies in a cave. Unless you are, in which case your lack of a Valentine’s date is probably a good thing.