Skip the skins, Valentine

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You don’t see such scenes in modern cartoons anymore, but those of us above a certain age may remember the images. Amorous caveman with big stick hits cavewoman — zonk — and drags his conquest to his cave, probably by the hair.

Happy Valentine’s Day indeed.

Why the striking imagery? Even before St. Valentinus, whom we celebrate tomorrow with overpriced flowers, candy, and cards for the objects of all varieties of love, there was Lupercalia.

Like so many Western holidays, Valentine’s Day’s origins date to ancient Rome. Where men hit on women by literally hitting them, at least for the festival of Lupercalia.

The Luperci, an order of Roman priests, gathered on Feb. 13 at the sacred cave where they believed the infants Romulus and Remus (Rome’s founders) were raised by a she-wolf, a lupa. Lupercalia’s three-day festival ensued, where women were whipped (and crops splashed) with the skins of slain goats or dogs, whose blood supposedly made both fertile.

I’m swooning.

Did I mention the men were naked? And drunk, say historians. Ladies, picture the lottery jar, from which each single man would draw the name of the woman who would, um, “be” with him for the remainder of the festival. If he liked her enough, he could marry her. Or not.

How romantic.

The Normans also had a mid-February love feast, called Galatin’s Day. I couldn’t find much about it, but it lacked Lupercalia’s tawdrier tales.

How’d we get to St. Valentine? Historians aren’t entirely sure, but as one story goes, a 3rd century priest by that name was executed by Emperor Claudius for performing forbidden marriages for soldiers and their beloveds. Fast forward to the 5th century and Pope Gelasius, who moved Valentine’s Day to coincide with Lupercalia and Galatin, trying to push conversion. Imagine his dismay when at least at first, some new Christians just mimicked the Roman revelry.

The love theme stuck, but at least we’ve done away with the worst. By the Middle Ages, Europeans traded handmade cards on Feb. 14. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized it with sonnets. Hallmark made its first Valentine cards in 1913. Luckily for women and critters, long gone are the bloody hides and lottery style “love.”

And speaking of the purer variety, this year Feb. 14 coincides with another Christian event. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which begins the 40 Lenten days (not counting Sundays) leading to Easter.

“Being deeply loved gives you strength, while loving deeply gives you courage.” — Lao Tzu


Sholeh Patrick is a lucky columnist for the Hagadone News Network whose caveman speaks softly and carries only a pen. Contact her at

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