I’ve always preferred Lupercalia to Valentine’s Day.
I used to have wonderful “I Hate Valentine’s Day” parties back in Pittsburgh. I had couples and singles coming to the parties. Once I had all the people working in a bakery come out to see who had ordered the cake with the cracked heart and the black roses. They could not conceive that someone could not like Valentine’s Day, and they assumed that I had been “jilted” or “stood-up” when, in reality, it’s just a insipid holiday.
Anyone who needs a day set aside to be romantic or passionate really should be alone.
The most popular story I heard was that Valentine was a Roman soldier who had converted to Christianity. Imprisoned for his beliefs, he befriended his jailer’s daughter, who asked him about Christianity. So, secretly, Valentine taught her about the new religion, and she converted. Taken to his death, Valentine left a message for his new convert, to maintain her faith in Christ, and he signed it “from your Valentine.” No passion. No romance. Just Christianity being spread from devotee to convert.
Pan (modern statue created by Oberon Zell)
In contrast, Lupercalia dates to ancient Rome, long before the empire. The festivities would start at the Lupercal cave, which is where Romulus and Remus were suckled by the she-wolf. From here, naked young men, wearing belts of animal skin and carrying strips of goat hide, would run around the Palatine. Anyone encountered would be struck by the goat hide strips. This was a form of fertility magic that ensured that crops–and people–would be fruitful.
The ancient Romans weren’t sure who was supposed to be honored at Lupercalia. Certainly Faunus, the ancient pastoral god identified with the Greek gold Pan, was honored at the celebration, but because it all started at the Lupercal cave, there were ties to Romulus and Remus as well. (Lupa is the Latin word for wolf.) Livy claimed that Inuus, the god of sexual intercourse, was originally honored before he became identified with Faunus. In the time of Augustus a new god, Lupercus, was created as the honoree of the celebration.
In an attempt to “sanitize” Lupercalia and bring it into Christianity, Pope Gelasius I in 494 made February 15 the Festival of the Purification of the Virgin Mary.
For traditionalists, however, February 15 will always remain Lupercalia–a much more “earthy” alternative to Valentine’s Day.
Adkins, Lesley, and Roy A. Adkins. Dictionary of Roman Religion (New York: Facts on File, 1996).
Stapleton, Michael. A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Mythology (New York: Dell Publishing Company, 1978).