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The real history of Valentine’s Day is pretty gory

Valentine’s Day wasn’t always about cheesy Hallmark cards.

In high school, every Valentine’s Day my a cappella group would sell singing Valentines and go around to classrooms all day delivering them. Harmonizing to Ain’t No Mountain High Enough and serenading our peers with Just the Way You Are, we caused girlfriends and boyfriends to blush and swoon.

I was always happy that I was able to sing the Valentine’s because, for the majority of high school, I was single, and I didn’t want to deal with the embarrassment of not receiving any singing Valentine’s.

People tend to be quite jaded about when it comes to Valentine’s Day. The seemingly arbitrary date causes couples to go over the top buying gifts and chocolate and publicly displaying their love for one another. It causes the single folks to reflect on their lives and worry whether they’ll end up alone. 

[Image Description: A blonde woman sitting in a chair saying, “being alone sucks!”] Via giphy.com
But Valentine’s Day wasn’t always about cheesy Hallmark cards.

In fact, the history of this gushy holiday is contested, but both theories are a little gross and definitely don’t involve chocolate.

Theory number one goes all the way back to ancient Rome and a fertility festival called Lupercalia.

The festival was pretty wild, with lots of nudity and drinking, and your classic whipping of women with the hides of dead animals.

[Image Description: Michelle Obama turning her head to the camera saying, “Ewwwww.”] Via giphy.com
The festival took place between February 13 and 15.

The hide-whipping was done with the animals that were feasted upon. The whipping was done in the hopes that it would help all the ladies get preggers. Fast forward a few centuries and the Christian church took over, making the festival tamer and less nude.

The second theory may be one you’ve already heard of and has to do with a guy named Saint Valentine. The Roman emperor at the time had banned soldiers from getting married, as he feared it would be a distraction and would weaken the army. St. Valentine disobeyed the order and was beheaded on, you guessed it, February 14.

Others say that the romanticizing of this February day came from poets like Chaucer and Shakespeare, who connected February with spring and therefore new life and love.

From there, Saint Valentine’s day became about professing your love to your partner with flowers and notes, although it wasn’t until 1913 that Hallmark came out with their first Valentine’s day card.

[Image Description: Two animated dogs, the Lady and the Tramp, are sharing a piece of spaghetti.] Via giphy.com
We often only associate Valentine’s Day with American and European culture, but there are lots of other parts of the world that get romantic in February.

In the Philippines, tons of couples say, “I do” on Valentine’s Day. The government pays for the festivities, which allows couples who weren’t able to wed previously for financial reasons the ability to finally tie the knot.

February 14 in South Africa looks a lot like it does in the U.S. and Europe: romantic dinners and flowers. But it can also involve women pinning the names of their love interests on their sleeves.

In China, Valentine’s Day is known at Qixi. Instead of big displays of love and affection, couples pray for happiness and single women decorate melons and other fruits as offerings to a mythical character Zhinu to help them find a husband. These are just a few of a long list of nations who devote one day a year to love.

So this February 14, remember that Valentine’s Day has a history.

And if you’re a single gal feeling a little lonely, know that at least you’re not living through the Lupercalia festival and being slapped with the skin of a dead animal.

Any plans you have are probably better than that.