February is here — the time of chocolates, flowers, greeting cards and those frustratingly inedible-yet-addictive chalky conversation hearts. It is also the time where we are encouraged to effusively shower those whom we love with sticky-sweet kindness.
However, if you dig a little deeper, St. Valentine's Day wasn't always so saccharin. Indeed, the holiday's origins are stained in a darker shade of red from what we've come to know. Given that we at AtmosFX always enjoy what's dark and mysterious (check out our list of Valentine’s Day Haunted Houses here) we thought we'd dig into it a bit.
St. Valentine's Day probably dates back to the third century A.D., to the wild days of the Roman Empire, when we find as many as three people who could have been the legendary Valentus (Valentine).
Anyway, legend has it that Emperor Claudius II decided that bachelors made better soldiers than married ones and figured outlawing marriage would keep the empire strong. Conversely, Valentine (not yet a Saint) apparently believed love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage, so he kept tying the knot for young lovers on the low-down.
But, when Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius sentenced the marrying maverick to a three-part execution. First, he was to be beaten. Second, he was stoned with heavy rocks. When those didn’t quite do the trick, heads rolled. On February 14th, stories tell of three executions of fellows named Valentus. Hell hath no fury like an emperor scorned.
Here's another fun bit: February 13-15 was the time ancient Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia. As part of the festivities, young men would dress as wolves, kill some dogs or goats, skin them, and then chase young women around the city, whipping them with the hides. This was thought to increase fertility.
These gross whips were called, februare which is where we get the name for the whole month.
The three-day feast included a lot of public nudity, intense drunkenness, dirty songs, and blind dates (they'd match couples up by drawing names from a jar). It sounds about as romantic as Spring Break.
Later, Pope Gelasius I sought to re-brand this pagan holiday with something a bit more low-key and replaced it with a feast of purification. Somewhere between the 1200s AD and the 1500s, this transformed into St. Valentine’s Day.
By the Middle Ages, St. Valentine's Day started to look like something we might recognize. The earliest surviving "Valentine" appears in the 15th century when the Duke of Orleans wrote home to his wife (he was imprisoned in the Tower of London after the famous Battle of Agincourt at the time) calling her, “Ma tres doulce Valentinée…”
English poets Geoffrey Chaucer and William Shakespeare both wrote about the day's connection to romantic love and their literary endorsements cemented the holiday into modern culture.
Overall, we think current practices of exchanging poetic cards, decorating with hearts, and sending chocolate seem more effective (and humane) than beating your sweetheart with dead animal skins. Plus, it makes for a more appropriate digital decoration. From all of us to all of you on this much-mellowed occasion: Be My Valentine.