“Retail Madness” might be a more appropriate name for Valentine’s Day.
After all, it can be challenging to remember the point of the holiday of hearts while wading through acres of greeting cards — let alone gifts and trinkets in the forms of everything from Valentine’s picture frames to breakfast cereal.
There are all kinds of things for Valentine’s Day you never even knew you needed.
Still, the question remains: Where, oh where, did Valentine’s Day come from?
Well, it seems that humans need things to disagree about, and the day of love and candy hearts is no exception.
One theory is that, about 1,000 years before Hallmark, the Romans practiced a mid-February pagan ritual to a god called Lupercus. That’s Lupercus, not Lucifer.
This rite-of-passage ritual involved a lottery in which the names of teen-age girls were drawn from a box by young men. Each lucky girl chosen was assigned to have sex for a whole year with the man holding the slip of paper with her name on it.
See how lucky they were?
So this went on until a pope called Gelasius decided to make the lottery less pagan and more Catholic. He figured he could do that by taking the girls’ names out of the box and replacing them with the names of patron saints, which was less scary, but more boring. And the Roman men were kind of disappointed.
After that, both men and women drew names and were directed to emulate the amazing qualities of the chosen saint for a full 365 days (a very long time to act like a saint).
You’re probably wondering where the candy hearts come into this. There are no hard and fast answers, but here goes: After a while, the church decided to do away with worshiping Lupercus, too. So it shopped around for a nice, loving saint to replace the old god of premarital sex.
It found that replacement in St. Valentine, a priest said to have been beheaded by the emperor Claudius — “Cruel Claudius” — on Feb. 14 of 269 A.D.
Now, this Claudius was really into killing people. In fact, he was so into fighting that he banned marriage because he thought married men made crummy soldiers. But Valentine, who was more into love than war, went right on marrying couples. On the sly, of course.
You can imagine how ticked off Claudius was when he caught wind of Valentine’s shenanigans. Attempting the worst he could dream up, Claudius tried to convert the stoic Valentine to paganism. Of course, he failed miserably, so he cut off Valentine’s head. But first he had him stoned (which seems a bit extreme, even for an evil emperor).
Now, this is where it gets good: Before Valentine was marched off to the chopping block, he was locked in a dank dungeon that was probably really gross and crawling with rats and big, wet bugs.
But there was a light just beyond the bars of Valentine’s rusty cage, and that light was Claudius’ daughter, who happened to be blind. And Valentine fell hard for his beautiful, blind jailer. Legend has it that because of a feeling for her as real and alive as the few hours he had left to live — a feeling that smoldered like coal and soothed like a whisper — Valentine was able to cure her blindness. Isn’t that cool?
And just before the ax fell, the guy wrote the love letter to top them all. That letter was signed “From, Your Valentine.” The rest, as they say, is history.