The Dark History of Valentine's Day You Never Saw Coming
Raise your hand if this sounds like you: The second you flip your calendar from January to February, you can't help but get all worked up. Sure, the fact that you pulled off January in one piece (or stuck to most of your New Year's resolutions) is enough of a cause to get all pumped up, but the real reason you're buzzing with excitement is because February is the month of love and all things chocolate and strawberries.
But, have you ever wondered why February 14th was designated as the “Day of Love”? Is there an uber-romantic story that made this day so special that millions of people feel obliged to flock to florists and candy shops to show a sign of their affection? Well, to our surprise (and possibly, yours), there is a story behind Valentine’s Day's roots, but it isn't exactly fairy-tale-like.
In fact, the history of Valentine's Day is mostly dark -if not gory. The day has seen its fair share of drama, sadness, and even death. If you want to know more about the origins of Valentine’s Day, this short “trip” down history lane will make you appreciate the way we celebrate the “Day of Love” now.
What Is Valentine's Day?
Celebrated on February 14th, Valentine's Day is the “official” day to celebrate love, but not just one type of love. We're talking about all kinds of affection here, whether that's the romantic or platonic or the type that says: “I care about you, and I'd do anything to make you happy.” With that in mind, Valentine’s Day isn't just a day to shower your significant other with over-the-top statements (and possibly gifts), but a time to show everyone who's special to you that you care and would do anything for them.
The (False) Roman Origins
We don't know if you've heard the story, but according to modern historians, Valentine's Day has its roots in an ancient Roman celebration, known as Lupercalia(1). The festival took place in the city of Rome and lasted about two days, from 13th to 15th of February. Part of the festivities included a ritual during which Roman priests whipped young women with thongs of blood-drenched skin stripped off of two freshly killed animals. As crazy as it sounds, this sort of “spanking” made women fertile.
But, here comes the interesting part. While many claim the Roman tradition was the reason Valentine's Day came to be, the truth is that there's no evidence of any link between the two celebrations. In fact, it wasn't until the 14th century that Valentine’s Day was shaped into the romantic festivity we know today – which brings us to the next point.
The Chaucer Flair
If it wasn't the Romans who started the whole Valentine's Day thing, then who was it? Well, according to Jack B. Oruch(2), the English poet, Geoffrey Chaucer(3), was the first person to ever associate St. Valentine with romance in one of his poems. Specifically, he wrote:
"For this was on St. Valentine's Day, when every bird cometh there to choose his mate."Geoffrey Chaucer
The poet links St. Valentine to a specific day on which lovebirds get to express their affection for their mates or loved ones (that's Valentine’s Day, btw). So, this is how Valentine's Day came to be. Now, the real question is: Who was this St. Valentine Chaucer was referring to, and how did February 14th came into the picture?
So, Who Was Saint Valentine?
Since there are a lot of theories(4) surrounding Saint Valentine and his life andwork, it's a bit tricky to identify the actual man behind the holiday. However, the one version that hits home with most people depicts the Saint as a priest who lived during the 3rd century AD.
Valentine was at the top of his game while Claudius II ruled Rome. Lore has it that the Emperor was nothing short of bellicose and vindictive, which is why he forbade couples from getting married. He thought that using this way would encourage men to join the army as single men, making better soldiers (again, his thoughts!).
Being the caring person that he was, Valentine went against the Emperor's orders and kept marrying couples in secret, while spreading the word of God. Of course, when Claudius II found out about the priest's illegal activities, he threw him in jail and sentenced him to death. Valentine’s life came to an abrupt end on February 14th, which is where “Valentine's Day” got its name from. One variation of the story also says that while in prison, the Saint fell in love with the jailer's daughter to whom he sent a love letter signed under “Your Valentine.”
Making Things Official
Even though Saint Valentine was killed for supporting his Christian beliefs, it took a while for the Catholic Church to recognize his efforts and contribution to the religion's cause. In fact, it wasn't until 496 A.D. that Pope Gelasius(5) declared February 14th as the First Feast Day of Saint Valentine. The real question in this case, though, is whether the Pope did this to actually honor the martyr, or just to put an end to the paganistic ways of Lupercalia.
Valentine's Day in the 20th Century
Torture, imprisonment, and bloody rituals aside, Valentine's Day's connection to deadly incidents was far from over at the dawn of the 20th century. On February 14, 1929, two rival gangs turned Chicago into a war zone as 7 men affiliated to George Moran's gang were gunned down as they were standing lined up outside a garage.
Reports say that about 70 rounds of ammunition were fired. This small detail shows the brutality of the crime, proving it wasn't your ordinary hit-and-run. And even though there was no concrete evidence, Moran knew Capone was behind the brutal massacre. Of course, due to the lack of evidence, no one was brought to trial. The incident is known today as the “Valentine's Day Massacre”(6).
As you see, the history of Valentine's Day isn't as lovey-dovey as we would have thought. On the contrary, the celebration is linked to many blood soaked incidents, which have left their mark in history (sometimes, in the worst of ways). But, despite all these, Valentine’s Day was engraved in everyone's mind as the one day in the year it's all right to go overboard - all in the name of love. So, whether you're planning a romantic dinner at home or want to spend the whole day outside with your boo (or beau), we're just here to say “Happy Valentine's Day.”