Most people believe that Valentine’s Day was created by an advertising agency on Madison Avenue in order to sell flowers, chocolate and jewelry.
And men (and women) may have run with the ball (or heart), but Valentine’s Day, like Halloween, actually stems from an ancient pagan tradition. Read about the surprising history of Valentine’s Day.
The origin of Valentine’s Day stems from a pagan festival in ancient Rome called Lupercalia, At this raucous and bloody event held every year from February 13 to 15, men would spank young maidens with goat- or dog-skin whips in the hopes of increasing their fertility, according to classics professor Noel Lenski of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
Lupercalia remained wildly popular well into the fifth century A.D.—at least 150 years after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Recognizing the tradition was popular with people, the Christian church began associating the Lupercalia festival to the legend of St. Valentine.
According to the story, in the third century A.D. Roman Emperor Claudius II, seeking to bolster his army, forbade young men to marry. Valentine, it is said, defied the ban, performing marriages in secret. As punishment, Valentine was executed in A.D. 270—on February 14, the day we celebrate Valentine’s Day today.
Valentine’s Day today
So how do we celebrate Valentine’s Day in modern times? Thankfully, the flogging is a thing of the past. Most people spend time with their loved one by going out to dinner or they buy a gift to express their admiration.
Fifty-five percent of the U.S. population is estimated to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, and are expected to spend an average $143.56 on Valentine’s Day, an increase from last year’s $136.57, according to the annual survey released by the National Retail Federation and Prosper Insights & Analytics. Total spending is expected to reach $19.6 billion, up from $18.2 billion last year. The numbers are the second-highest in the survey’s 15-year history, topped only by the record $146.84 and $19.7 billion seen in 2016.
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