The History of Valentine’s Day, Laid Baaa-re (NSFG)
(NSFG) = Not Safe for Goats
Dirt, sex, and grime are often erased from the histories of national holidays to fit the generally idealized and “square” narratives of those in power. Valentine’s Day especially has seen this commodification and ideological reworking, being diluted to a mixture of candy hearts, cupids and passionate-less formalities. Yet looking at the past, human sexuality has always been as pervasive and powerful as it is today. So why do we continue to ignore the all-too-important intricacies of our erotic nature? Why do we not fill in the gaps that have been left by prudish scholars?
the newspaper says no more.
Unlike certain religious and academic institutions who seek to sanitize the past, we aren’t afraid to get a little bit dirty—and by “a little bit dirty,” we mean absolutely filthy. So unbuckle your seatbelts, turn up that baby makin’ music and let’s take a trip through the ages…
It all begins in 753 B.C. with the Classics: raunchy Pagan sex, lusty animal sacrifices and a fan favorite—naughty flagellation. These were cornerstones, of course, of the Roman-Pagan festival of Lupercalia. Presumed to be associated with the origins of Valentine’s Day, this celebration was anything but romantic—kinky, yes, but “hearts and flowers?” A solid no.
Every year, around February 14 or 15, Pagans would gather to honor the gods of fertility and perform purification rituals. As part of an opening ceremony, goats (who really just can’t seem to catch a break, the poor things) were slaughtered for their supposed sexual energy. Later, the goat skins were repurposed as street-wearable thongs (yes, you definitely read that right). Wearing these oh-so-sexy garments, men would run around Palatine Hill and strike any woman they came across, believing this would increase their chances of fertility. The night would then end with a surprisingly anticlimactic grand feast.
Lupercalia, in all of its goat-thong glory, was to last 1200 more years before the papal inauguration of Pope Gelasius I at the end of the 5th century A.D. Gelasius I, on a mission to outlaw all things fun, attempted to expel the Pagans by naming February 14 after a martyr who exemplified the very best of the Catholic faith. This was none other than the O.G. Cupid, Saint Valentine. In previous years, he had been jailed for marrying couples in secret after marriage had been outlawed. Before his execution, it was rumored that he sent his love interest a letter signed “Love, Your Valentine.”
I’m not crying, you’re crying.
With the Catholic Church in power, Lupercalia quickly became a relic of the past and a new era of festivities was ushered in.The oldest surviving English Valentine’s letter was written by a woman named Margery Brews in 1477, and was addressed to her love John Paston—“you are my right well-beloved Valentine.” In subsequent years, Valentine’s Day became increasingly romanticized. Perhaps even popularized by Shakespeare, who mentions the day in Hamlet:
To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day,
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your Valentine. (Act 4, Scene 5)
Pre-printed cards first surfaced in Britain in 1797 during the Industrial Revolution, as postage costs decreased and it became easier for commoners to send these sickly-sweet notes to their loved ones. It was not until the rise of consumer culture in the late 1840s, however, that the United States jumped on the bandwagon. The media and advertising companies contributed to its popularization by informing the public about this romantic holiday from overseas—one newspaper even calling for “more soul-play, and less head-work” in reference to the holiday. As it is in our capitalistic society, the “get-rich-quick” scheme for Hallmark soon began, and heart-shaped paraphernalia was being marketed to people of all ages.
Pressures from significant others grew, the years passed, and product and marketing schemes got more creative.
And finally, this is where we get off—no pun intended—of our little joyride.
From goat-thongs to lingerie, from swatting women to swiping right, from just-before-death love letters to 21 Questions, and from hot and raunchy sex to … hopefully still hot and raunchy sex.
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