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The violent and murky beginnings of Valentine's Day

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

Juana, I don't think the world has mentioned enough today that it is Valentine's Day.

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Got to be honest here, I don't really observe this holiday. It's too cheesy. And I don't even really like chocolate.

CHANG: (Laughter) Well, whether you are a fan or not of this holiday, just be glad you weren't around for Valentine's Day in ancient Rome. It was actually a pretty brutal affair. You see, in mid-February, Roman men would sacrifice goats and a dog, make thongs from goat skins and then run through Rome wearing those thongs, whipping women with straps of goat hide. And some women would line up for this, believing it would boost fertility. Some historians say that violent holiday, the feast of Lupercalia, may be the pagan precursor to Valentine's Day.

SUMMERS: OK, so what about St. Valentine himself? Where does he come in?

CHANG: Well, there's an even worse story there. In the third century, one or two Christians named Valentine - historians aren't sure how many - apparently angered the Roman emperor, and they became martyrs. And the Catholic Church began honoring them with St. Valentine's Day, on February 14, right around the same time as the goat festival.

SUMMERS: It sounds like this holiday has some really grim origins.

CHANG: Yes. You can read more about the dark history behind Valentine's Day at npr.org. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Christopher Intagliata is an editor at All Things Considered, where he writes news and edits interviews with politicians, musicians, restaurant owners, scientists and many of the other voices heard on the air.
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