It feels like we have just recovered from Christmas, and now we are fast approaching Valentine’s Day. For those of us in relationships, maybe this is an opportunity to strengthen your relationship, grow more intimate with a new partner, or show your appreciation for a spouse. Of course, those with more serious concerns about their relationship could seek therapy or advice regarding the issues that they are facing. There are so many options available to couples today that certainly sound more appealing than these Valentine’s Day traditions! Throughout history, the holiday has seen some bizarre, creepy traditions, superstitions and folklore. Ranging from the outright scary to charmingly spooky, here’s some of the strangest vintage Valentine traditions.
Many believe that the holiday originates with the martyr Saint Valentine, but in Roman times it was known as Lupercalia – a festival celebrating the beginning of breeding season. The Pagan holiday was one of slaughter, sex and gore – rather than hearts and romance. Historian Noel Lenski explains that a Pope created a holiday in celebration of St Valentine in order to take focus away from the less holy traditions of Lupercalia.
The Roman festival involved the slaying of a goat and a dog as sacrifices, after which the participants would get very drunk, raffle off women, and the men would whip their chosen lady with the hides of the slaughtered animals. What followed was several days of intense and gory love-making. Although the Pope sought to erase the Pagan origins of the festival, Lenski said; “”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.”
Many old traditions involved women performing some sort of supernatural ritual in order to discover their relationship destiny. Leigh Eric Schmidt’s history of Valentine’s Day traditions describes medieval young woman making their way to burial ground on the night of St. Valentine’s Day. The setting of a churchyard at midnight was said to allow the women to sense ‘omens’ regarding their future husbands
The medieval period was also the prime era of love potions, some promising to help in attracting a mate around the holiday. Most contained fairly harmless ingredients, including including garlic, onions, musk and myrtle. However, a handful of recipes from the 16th century advised a potion of earthworms crushed with leeks to be fed to your desired lover.
Through the centuries the holiday grew further away from it’s origins. Many people complain about how commercial holidays are in the modern era, but the mass production of Valentine cards and gifts actually began in the nineteenth century. The industrial revolution allowed for large scale printing of greeting cards, which began to overtake handwritten love notes. But it took the greeting card industry a while to evolve into the hearts, chocolates and kittens seen on shelves today. Going back 100 years, Valentine’s Day cards were often more than a little sinister.
So, as you plan for Valentine’s Day this year – be thankful that the day won’t bring threats of being cooked, whipping with parts of dead animals, or eating worms!