Valentine’s origins reach to ancient pagan rituals

Columnist Matt Flocco celebrates Valentine’s Day differently in Rome. As a Christian, I should not celebrate Valentine’s Day. Well, according to, I shouldn’t. So, are you telling me that for the first 20 years

Columnist Matt Flocco celebrates Valentine’s Day differently in Rome.

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MATT FLOCCO TTN Lupa the she-wolf, sits outside the church of St. Charles in Rome. The festival Lupercalia is celebrated in part to honor Lupa.

As a Christian, I should not celebrate Valentine’s Day. Well, according to, I shouldn’t.

So, are you telling me that for the first 20 years of my life, during which I never once had my own valentine on Feb. 14 (save for fifth grade), I wasted all that time sending Batman cards from CVS to friends and crushes?

You’re telling me now, when I am finally in a serious relationship for the first time in my life on the ultimate commodity holiday, that I shouldn’t celebrate it?

Yes. I think that’s exactly what is trying to tell me.

Valentine’s Day, as every American knows, is the most double-edged holiday on our calendar. You either hate it or love it.

Of course its origins are found in none other than Rome, and even though it seems like the Romans don’t celebrate it that much anymore, they used to.

The Christian holiday of St. Valentine’s Day was most likely put in place as a pagan festival in the middle of February, called Lupercalia.

One of the oldest holidays in Rome, it symbolizes the beginning of spring: harvest, fertility and new beginnings – all that good stuff. Once again, let me remind you, simply for comparison purposes, that it was 60 degrees and sunny here in Roma this past weekend.

The story, like many others in Roman mythology, is a little ambiguous. The festival is made partly to honor Lupa, the she-wolf mother of Romulus and Remus. It is also made to honor Lupercus, the Roman name for Pan, a god of fertility and harvest.

The head-honcho’s high priests would sacrifice a goat, shred it and then run through the town slapping the shreds on the women of the village. This was supposed to make them fertile.

So technically, we should be celebrating Mother’s Day in February. It all makes sense!

Furthermore, the names of the women in the town were placed into a large urn, and bachelors would choose names. Those pairings often ended in marriage. So it was left up to fate, or chance – take your pick.

This celebration goes on for hundreds of years. Then, sometime after Rome becomes Christian, the popes decide to appease the pagan masses and have a replacement holiday during the festival of Lupercalia.

They picked St. Valentine, but there were not one, not two, but three St. Valentines, all of them martyrs. Their back stories overlap and are similar, just as in Roman mythology.

One legend goes that marriage was forbidden in Rome so that soldiers wouldn’t be distracted by love. St. Valentine thought that was an awful idea and performed marriages in secret.

Another legend says that while he was imprisoned, St. Valentine fell in love with the jailor’s daughter, wrote her a secret letter and signed it, “Your Valentine.” So really, it all fits together. Valentine’s Day really is all about love, mating and all that mushy stuff.

Of course the last piece of this puzzle is to talk about Cupid. Venus (Aphrodite), the goddess of love and beauty, gave birth (just like the she-wolf did) to Cupid (Eros). Naturally, as a gender-stereotyped male, he is on the hornier side of love, associated with ero-ticism and all that good stuff that comes after dinner and wine on Valentine’s Day in the U.S.

That brings us to today. Surprisingly in Rome, it seems there are no big festivals or even much merchandise for the holiday. Leave that to the states. But that’s OK, I’m not supposed to be celebrating it, remember?

According to a chapter in the book of Deuteronomy, when lands are acquired for God, the people of Israel aren’t supposed to worship in the ways they did, meaning no celebrations of pagan holidays.

Perhaps that’s why Valentine’s Day was taken off the saints’ calendar in 1969. So now, it’s really just secular.

Honestly, it doesn’t matter if it’s pagan, Christian, secular or whatever at this point. Whether you’re struck by Cupid’s arrow, matched up in an urn, fated to be together by God or simply by chance, there’s a little love out there for everyone on Valentine’s Day.

Matt Flocco can be reached at

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