Did Valentine's Day Originate From This Ancient Pagan Festival?

Two of the major holidays on the Christian calendar — Christmas and Easter — are celebrated, in the West anyway, with a mix of Christian and pagan traditions. As Infobloom notes, both holidays honor specific events in the life of Jesus Christ, but both do so with the addition of pagan traditions that had been around in Western Europe for centuries before Christianity came calling.

Valentine's Day is sort of a Christian holiday and sort of isn't. On the one hand, February 14 is indeed the feast day of the Christian martyr Saint Valentine, according to Catholic Online. On the other hand, the day, at least as it's celebrated in the United States, is more of a cultural and retail holiday than anything else. Romantic dinners, buying flowers and gifts for our beloveds, exchanges of sweet nothings — none of this has anything to do with Christianity directly other than the name attached to the holiday. But like Easter and Christmas, there may be a pagan connection to the way we celebrate Valentine's Day. Or maybe not, depending on who you ask.

V-Day and the ancient Roman Lupercalia bear some similarities

Valentine's Day occurs on February 14 and, according to History, the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia took place on February 15 each year as a means of warding off evil spirits and promoting fertility. Lupercalia did involve love, of a sort, and here "love" actually means "random sex" — specifically, that part of the festival, (which also involved women being struck with bloody strips of goat flesh) included men drawing names of women and sealing the deal afterwards, for reasons that perhaps made sense to the ancient Romans. Sometimes the couples would actually fall in love, according to legend.

So what we have are two festivals with similar places on the calendar and vaguely-similar motivations. So did the pagan festival inform the practice of the "Christian" (or rather, retail) festival? Probably not, Kresimir Vukovic, a postdoctoral fellow at the Catholic University of Croatia who has studied Lupercalia, told Time. "There is a calendar overlap, but there's no indication that one was replaced by another," Vukovic said.