The Madeleine Brand Show for February 14, 2012

History of Valentine's Day not so rosy

View of packed bouquets of roses ahead o

Guillermo Legaria/AFP/Getty Images

View of packed bouquets of roses ahead of Valentine's Day, the biggest holiday of the year for fresh-cut flower sales, at a flower farm of "The Elite Flowers" company in Facatativa, near Bogota, Colombia.

Like it or not, it's Valentine's Day. Candy hearts, fresh flowers, romantic, candle-lit dinners ... it can be a pretty saccharine affair.

But the roots of the holiday aren't so lovey-dovey. Some scholars trace it back to a February festival in ancient Rome called Lupercalia – a celebration involving dead animals, drunken teens and much more. Not quite the chocolate and flower affair that Valentine's Day is now.

Lupercalia was "something of a drunken revel," said Lenksi. "The nobel youth of the city would get together, usually quite inebriated, and they would strip down to the better part of nothing." They would then sacrifice a goat and a dog, and "strip the hide off these animals, and they run around [through the city], while women who wanted to get pregnant would stand next to the course. And then these naked drunken youth would hit the women with these hides, which supposedly would help them get pregnant."

How romantic.


Noel Lenksi, a professor of Classics at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

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