So. Here we are once again, February 14th, and you’re nervous as hell that all you managed to get your SO after days of searching and sweating and asking the opinions of others is a bunch of overpriced flowers picked by Brazilian produce workers for pennies an hour and some chocolate that you’re not quite sure she’ll like and you’re afraid you’ll come off trite and insincere when, dammit, you TRIED, and who the hell came up with this stupid holiday, anyway? I will tell you, as I do every year. It was not, as those even more cynical than this chronicler (hard to imagine, isn’t it?) will tell you, the South African diamond merchants and the Hallmark people…though if there’s justice, a specialized hell awaits them all. Damn, atheism bites hard sometimes. No. It was the Romans. And, is too long to sum up, so I will splain.
Once upon a time, there was a rather sweet little custom held by the ancient Romans called the Lupercalia. As I tend to leave the dry, scholarly posts to those who actually enjoy such things, I will link the wiki article for you to peruse and enjoy at your leisure. Essentially, the Romans were celebrating fertility. They liked doing that quite a bit, and managed to find many, MANY inventive reasons for doing so. Every year on February 15th, the local priests would round up the year’s crop of likely young men and take them up to the cave where the she-wolf suckled the twins, Romulus and Remus. There, they were daubed on the forehead with the blood of a goat, and afterward, they were to take strips of goat skin, dip it in the blood and run through the streets touching everything in their path with the goatskin. Especially women. Go figure. It was supposed to cleanse the town and make women fertile. And afterward…and this is my favorite bit… there was a HUGE feast; lots of meat (goat, sure, you didn’t want it to go to waste after all…), lots of wine, everyone laughing and happy, and just when the evening hit its zenith…there was the sex lottery. You heard me. See, while the young men were up on the hill, the unmarried young ladies would all put their names in this urn. After the feast, the boys would draw names from the urn, and they’d take the young ladies off and do what it is kids do. It was an arrangement for a year to decide whether or not they liked each other well enough to be married which, when you get right down to it, is a hell of a lot more practical than a lot of what we do now. It was considered lucky if she became pregnant on the Lupercalia, and the pregnancy generally signaled an intent to make the arrangement permanent.
So what happened? Do you really need to ask? The Catholic church, of course. They got all tingly and uptight whenever they thought about the Lupercalia, and they knew that something that felt that good just COULDN’T be right. So they took a little known saint who may or may not have ever existed (Valentinus), ran it smack up against the Lupercalia, and, oh, yes, took away the sex lottery. Instead, the urn was stuffed with the names of saints, and the youngsters were instructed to research those saints and emulate them. Yeah, that’s more fun. Over the years, it has morphed and changed and become what it is; a holiday that takes the fun out of love. Manufactured romance. And yet…and yet…at the base of it…if we really want it…the Lupercalia is still there, winking and wearing not much more than a come hither look and a smile. So forget the flowers and the Whitman’s sampler and the two hour wait at the restaurant. Get a bottle of really good wine, some decent candles, and whatever it is you and your sweetie like best to eat. Feed each other in the candle light. Then go and make ol’ Lupercus proud. Be the secret entry in each others’ respective sex diaries. The page they never talk about and blush to think about.