The Dark Origins Of Valentine’s Day You Probably Never Knew

Whether you’re single or happily coupled up, February 14 has certain connotations. Modern-day celebrations focus on vibrant rose bouquets, heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, and over-the-top romance. However, the origins of Valentine’s Day as a holiday are actually pretty dark. The lovey-dovey nature of Cupid’s favorite day is only a recent development. In fact, the real history is much more sinister.

The dark origins of Valentine’s Day go all the way back to ancient Rome

During the 3rd century, Romans used to celebrate Lupercalia, a very early version of Valentine’s Day, from February 13 to 15. The celebration included the sacrifice of a goat and a dog, which were then skinned. The hides were used by men to whip women who volunteered for the painful practice believing it would make them more fertile, per NPR.

As you can probably imagine, the whole two-day fete was fuelled by a whole lot of alcohol as well as plenty of nudity and debauched sex.

There was also a lottery that matched young, virile men with women from the city. The men drew names from a jar and the couple was then sent off to get it on for the rest of Lupercalia. If things went well and they really liked each other, they could even choose to stay together long-term.

It’s also been suggested that we have the Romans to thank for the name of St. Valentine’s Day, since Emperor Claudius II decided to execute two different men named Valentine on February 14 (though in different years). The Catholic Church later made them martyrs by turning it into a holiday.

The meaning of the holiday didn’t change until much later

By the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I decided enough was enough. St. Valentine’s Day was combined with Lupercalia in order to get rid of all the paganistic (read: not very Christianly) aspects of the festival. However, the general vibe of the day remained intact.

“It was a little more of a drunken revel, but the Christians put clothes back on it. That didn’t stop it from being a day of fertility and love,” Noel Lenski, a religious study professor at Yale University, told NPR.

The Normans were having a similar celebration around the same time, though they called their holiday Galatin’s Day. Because it sounds like St. Valentine’s Day, people likely conflated the two at one point and they kinda melded into one.

By the Middle Ages, Chaucer and Shakespeare really put a twist of romance on the occasion. Around that time, sweethearts started exchanging paper cards for the occasion throughout UK and Europe. By the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century, the dark origin of Valentine’s Day had come full circle and became the saccharine-sweet holiday it is today.

So, where did Cupid come from?

cupid riding on a dolphinErasmus Quellinus II

If you’re picturing the chubby cherub with his bow and arrow, you’re on the right track. Cupid, also known as Eros in Greek mythology, is the god of love, desire, and affection. He was considered one of the most important gods in the Roman and Greek panthea.

In Greek mythology, Cupid was the son of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and beauty, and either Ares, the god of war, or Hermes, the messenger god. According to legend, Cupid was mischievous and playful. He would shoot his arrows at unsuspecting people, causing them to fall deeply in love. (Strike us, please!)

In Roman mythology, Cupid was known as Amor. He was also considered the son of Venus, the Roman equivalent of Aphrodite. He was associated with love and passion and was often depicted as a chubby, winged baby.

Throughout history, Cupid has been a popular figure in art, literature, and mythology, and he continues to be a symbol of love and romance to this day. The image of Cupid has evolved over time, but the idea of a mischievous, love-inducing god remains a timeless and beloved part of our cultural heritage.

Modern Valentine’s Day is big business

According to the National Retail Federation (via NBC 10 Boston), Valentine’s Day spending will top $25.9 billion in 2023. Americans will reportedly spend around $192 each on average on gifts, cards, flowers, and candy for their partners. This is true despite inflation, which has left many with less money to play with after paying bills.

However, many people, even those in relationships, swear off Valentine’s Day, seeing it as an overcommercialized scam. Of course, you shouldn’t need a special day to show your partner you care. You should be doing that every day, no fancy cards or chocolates necessary.

Bolde has been a source of dating and relationship advice for single women around the world since 2014. We combine scientific data, experiential wisdom, and personal anecdotes to provide help and encouragement to those frustrated by the journey to find love. Follow us on Instagram @bolde_media or on Facebook @BoldeMedia