Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Brief History of Valentines

Before they called it Valentine's Day, it was an old Roman holiday called Lupercalia.

It was a lusty holiday that celebrated Rome's origins and the coming of spring.

Those original festivals featured lots of bawdy, lusty playful priests of Faunus who would run through the streets in furry loincloths, playfully striking with little leather strips. Women would bare their bodies so that they could feel the stimulation of these little leather strips. It was considered good luck and fertility magic to be touched in this way.

Was this was the origin of mild B&D play? Lupercalia certainly popularized at least an aspect of it. What other popular erotic enchantments had their origins in these ancient bawdy festivals? Obviously, the festival was popular and hugely celebrated for centuries, and among some parts of the population, it still is.

Lupercalia gets its name from Lupa, the she wolf who suckled the twins, Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome. They were regarded as aspects of the origin of the wild god, Faunus, the Roman god who was the equivalent of Pan.

As the church became more powerful, they tried to get people to abandon the old Pagan festivals, but the challenge was how to get them to quit doing these things when so many people were having so much fun? Even though church leaders declared participation in Lupercalia to be a sin and forbid people to participate, the people largely ignored the church's orders and rules and continued to party on.

So in the 5th century, the church tried a different strategy. They simply renamed the party that people were already going to, and abracadabra! Lupercalia becomes Valentine's Day.

So the church declared that in honor of an early church martyr, St. Valentine, the holiday would be a celebration of romantic love, affection and dedication. Little is actually known about this person.

That is why today, we still see these two moods intertwine. Valentine's Day has become a day to express our appreciation and love for our lovers. And it is also a day to engage in erotic playfulness, encompassing everything from greeting cards and gifts to entertainment and special romantic dinners.

Shakespeare's play "Julius Caesar" opens at the scene of Lupercalia, with Caesar and Mark Antony as participants.

During the Middle Ages, in the time of writers like Geoffrey Chaucer, all kinds of stories about romance became popular, giving another boost to the popular holiday.

Because of the combination of religious and political power, they finally managed to drive some of the bawdy aspects of the holiday underground.

The modern greeting card industry dates back to the 19th century, and they promote the sending of Valentine cards (a billion a year, according to the US Greeting Card Association). Now we see promoting the sales of teddy bears and winter pajamas as Valentines gifts since the market is already saturated with heart shaped boxes of chocolates.

So if you are celebrating the real spirit of the holiday, it is to be found in lusty playfulness and embracing joy with the person you care most to be with.

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