Though no one has been able to identify the precise origin of Valentine’s Day, a good starting point would be Ancient Rome, where men hit on women by, well, hitting them. Many historians believe Valentine’s Day is based on an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia which used to be celebrated from February 13 to 15. During the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would meet at a holy cave where the the founders of Rome were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf or lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat for fertility, and a dog for purification. They would then tear the slain animals’ hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and run across town whipping women with the hide. The ritualistic flogging was believed to purify young women by bestowing fertility and ease of child birth for the coming year.
In the 5th century, perhaps in an effort to ‘Christianise’ the pagan festival, Pope Gelasius I declared February 14 as St Valentine’s day. Legend has it that that St Valentine, a defiant priest, was beheaded by the Roman Emperor Claudius II. When Emperor Claudius II realised that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for all young men in an attempt to strengthen his army. Valentine considered this to be unjust, so he defied Claudius and continued to perform marriages for young lovers (which included soliders) in secret. When Claudius discovered Valentine’s actions, the Emperor ordered for him to be put to death. The Church was thus successful in using St Valentine’s legacy to whitewash a perverted pagan custom.
Fast forward to the 21st century, while the sadomasochistic origins of this holiday have mostly been forgotten, it seems that the peculiar use of animals to promote fertility is still alive and well (cue a love bear commercial). At present, Valentine’s Day has largely become a massive money making venture sustained by corporations which successfully coerce consumers to spend a whopping $18.6 billion for this one day in America alone. While there is nothing wrong with ‘celebrating love’, unfortunately Valentine’s Day does little more than pressuring people to outdo one another in expressing their ‘love’ through mindless consumerism.
Ironically enough, Valentine’s Day sadly does little to actually bring couples together. In fact, data journalist David McCandles (who monitored 10,000 Facebook break up statuses over the course of a year) learned that the majority of the break ups happened right after Valentine’s Day, probably in part due to the enormous expectations of ‘expressing love’ that were never met.
To set the record straight, I do not have anything against love and I certainly do not have anything against those who choose to celebrate this day with their loved ones. To paraphrase Abby Martin, “I just think pouring large swathes of money to conform to some societal archetype of true love goes against everything that real love is supposed to be.”