Valentine’s Day Roots: Taking a Look at Lupercalia

Nathen Nayor/Staff Writer

Valentine’s Day isn’t for everyone, so why not celebrate the holiday that precedes it? The ancient Roman holiday of Lupercalia was nothing like the holiday we now celebrate on February 14.  It was in fact a rather gory and sexual festival intended to ward off evil spirits.  

Taking place from the 13th to the 15th of February, the month’s name finds its origin in this festival.  The holiday began with the sacrifice of a goat in the cave of Lupercal in Palantine Hill, one of Rome’s famous hills; the Luperci (Roman priests) would have the goat’s blood smeared onto their foreheads and wiped off with milk-soaked wool. 

After the ritual came the feast, in which after the goat’s pelt was cut into strips called Februa, and used as tools for purification from misfortune, infertility, and ill will.  The men who participated, drunk as can be, would run naked down from the hill into Palantine and strike whoever they saw with the Februa.  Young women were encouraged to participate in hopes of bearing young in the coming year.  

As the years went on, the nudity was replaced with a new tradition:  The names of single women were put into a raffling box and picked out by men, and they were to spend the rest of the festival (or longer) as a couple.  

The celebration of this holiday came to an end in the 400s when Pope Gelasius I banned it and replaced it with a celebration of St. Valentine, the patron saint of romance, for his martyrdom in the name of Christianity.  He was reputable for secretly marrying Christian couples in times of persecution, and so it became a romantic day instead of a day of fertility and cleansing.  The new holiday donned the reds and whites of the old holiday despite the scorn against pagans.  

Lupercalia is sometimes celebrated in private by non-Christians in place of Valentine’s Day, and I don’t blame them.  It sounds very fun; I can already envision a gathering of single millennials near the hill in Tropical Park legally reenacting the holiday.  Yes, that sounds much more delightful than chocolates and expensive dinners.  If we could bring this holiday back I’d be more than happy to celebrate it with the FIU community, but preferably after this pandemic has passed.  


The opinions presented within this page do not represent the views of PantherNOW Editorial Board. These views are separate from editorials and reflect individual perspectives of contributing writers and/or members of the University community.

Photo by Lars on Unsplash

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