Rituals and Practices: The Origin of Valentine’s Day

Valentine's Day may have originated in cool and surprising ways.

By Jalyn Soo


Valentine’s Day is a celebration of romance and love. Think chocolates adorned in heart-shaped boxes, extravagant bouquets of fresh flowers and an expensive date with the one you are head over heels for. All these acts are testament to the over commercialised Valentine’s Day that we are so familiar with.

However, before the West brought about this form of celebration, the world held a medley of traditions in various countries with different names as a tribute to love. The origins of this festival of chocolates and cupids are actually rather bemusing with its dark and bloody practices.

The Wild and Savage Romans

A fertility festival that presumably began after the founding of Rome (735 B.C.) and celebrated from 13 to 15 February, Lupercalia was held in honour of Lupa, the she-wolf who cared for Romulus and Remus, infants who were orphaned. They later became the founders of Rome and coined the festival Lupercalia, which meant ‘Wolf Festival’.

Men sacrificed goats for fertility and dogs for purification. They tore the goats’ hide into several strips and soaked them into blood, all for the purpose of whipping women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. Funnily enough, the women welcomed such actions, believing that they would be blessed with fertility from such rituals.

When such acts were deemed brutal and impious, Lupercalia was eventually outlawed towards the end of the 5th Century after Pope Gelasius I declared February 14 Valentine’s Day.

Much later, during the Middle Ages (5th to 15th Century), France and England started believing that February 14 was the day where birds started their mating season. Over time, the idea had spread across the world, and February 14 was considered a day of blossoming romance.

Hell Hath No Fury Like a French Woman Scorned

France, the city of love—captivating, classy and always romantic. Picture the majestic Eiffel Tower, the beautiful cobbled streets and charismatic French men with their charming accents. Une loterie d’amour, ‘drawing for love’ in French, is an outdated Valentine’s Day practice that has been outlawed.

What exactly went on during une loterie d’amour that caused its ban? Single men and women entered houses that faced each other and took turns shouting the names of their desired partner until a match was made. If a man did not like who he was being matched with, he would immediately call off the date in a bid to find another partner.

Those women who failed to get a match would then gather for a big ceremonial bonfire to hurl vulgarities while burning the belongings of men who had rejected them and caused them immense hurt. This practice was eventually outlawed due to the breaching of peace from all the aggro. Well, to turn into such lunatics post-rejection says a lot about these women and why they were unable to get a match in the first place.

South African Women, the Hopeless Romantics

In South Africa, Valentine’s Day practices are much more tamed. However, some may still find it a bit odd and flaky. A practice that young women in South Africa do is to pin their lover’s name on their sleeves during Valentine’s Day. Such an action that would make us cringe at its corniness is widely practiced and valued by young South African women. To them, it is a way of displaying their affection to the opposite gender, as well as expressing their heartfelt feelings. Such an outwardly expression of love has led to this phrase that we commonly hear today—‘to wear your heart on your sleeve’.

In this day and age, we could be a little less bashful about our feelings by laying them out proudly on the line. Maybe you can take a leaf out of these women’s book (and also a piece of paper, a pen and a safety pin). Perhaps your life may take a turn for the better. No promises, though!

And so, the celebration of Valentine’s Day goes on in a myriad of ways. Many will have their hands full of roses, chocolates and Hallmark cards for their Valentine, while some will break the bank buying jewellery and branded goods for their beloved. Those who are not so lucky in the game of love will celebrate in a SAD (Single Awareness Day) way, dining in solitude and binging on ice-cream. A few may even be spending this day like how the early Romans did. But we shall not delve into that.