Valentine’s Day’s bloody history proves that the ancient and present are not too different.
Valentine’s Day: the supposed “Hallmark holiday” that we either love, or love to hate. The truth is, however, most people haven’t the slightest idea where the gushy, romance-laced holiday got its start. Believe it or not, Valentine’s Day did not begin as a brilliant marketing ploy by the card, flower, chocolate, or even lingerie industry. It evolved, rather, from an early Roman tradition that included a celebratory feast, canine sacrifice, and incredibly graphic fertility ritual. Many of the traditions don’t fall that far from a typical American Valentine’s Day; okay, maybe sans the canine sacrifice.
During the Roman Empire on Feb. 14 each year, Lupricalia Day was celebrated as a way to cleanse the city of negative energy and ensure a fertile and healthy spring. The holiday was partly devised as a way to honor, Lupa, the she wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus from infancy and raised them to be the strong legendary founders of Rome. The celebration began by sacrificing two male goats and a dog – the excess blood was then used to anoint two lucky boys on the forehead, who were expected to smile and laugh in return (presumably).
Next was the sacrificial feast, where many guests would dress in nothing but the blood-drained animal skins of the recently sacrificed beasts. The ritual was kind of like some sort of morbid costume party. Perhaps the most noted portion of the festivities was when young men would run through the streets of the city, bleeding pieces of meat in hand, as the young women lined up to be spanked by said pieces of meat. It was believed that being slapped with the meat would not only ensure fertility, but a smooth delivery to boot. Getting slapped with a piece of bleeding raw meet was the ultimate Lupricalia Day accomplishment.
In the present day, a typical Valentine’s Day for those in a relationship tends to be something along the lines of dinner and a movie (plus a heart shaped box of chocolate and a dozen roses, if you’re lucky). For all the single ladies (and gentlemen) out there, the holiday serves as a constant reminder that you are alone on a day where any “sane and attractive person” would surely not be. At least that is what the media tells us. In order to fill this empty hole, we attempt to find a valentine. If you think about it, we have each been searching for a valentine since we were children, when we painstakingly decorated little boxes for our classmates to place cards into. For girls, at least, it would have been devastating to not receive a plethora of colored cards from your classmates, and it would have been even more heart wrenching to not get one from your crush.
Valentine’s Day is all about expectations. Whether you are one of the lucky ones who already has a valentine, or still in search of one, everyone is hoping for something and feels unfulfilled on this day if they don’t receive it. Much like the hordes of women, who filled the streets of Rome in desperate desire to be slapped with a piece of bleeding flesh, we all yearn to receive that heart shaped box of chocolates on February 14, despite it being known that the price of chocolate will be reduced by 75% on the 15th. That bleeding flesh and heart shaped box of chocolates represent something that is more important to us than we would like to admit; that something may be slightly different to everyone, but it is still special nonetheless. However, if you don’t obtain that special something, or someone this Valentine’s Day, just be thankful that this is 2013 and PETA would never let women be slapped with bleeding pieces of meat.