Monday, February 14, 2005

Lupercalia, lotteries and love

For all you curmudgeons who think Valentine's Day is nothing more than a retailer's dream for boosting sales revenue during the middle of winter - listen up. You're mostly correct. There was, however, an ancient pagan festival called Lupercalia that was celebrated in mid-February by the Romans. In the usual pagan fashion, the celebrations and rituals were a hodge-podge of dissonant symbols, in this case wolves, Romulus & Remus, sacrificial dogs and goats, and naked young men running around slapping fair maidens with bloody strips of goatskin. Hmmm . . . I suppose that last part could be fun. Anyway, it seems the Lupercalian festival changed as the Romans moved north into France and Britain. My own guess is that running around naked in the middle of winter wouldn't hold the same appeal to the conquered northerners, and the ritual changed to one in which young men drew the names of available maids from a box. For the next year, the men were obligated to protect and accompany the young women whose names they had drawn. Ah, romance at last. But wait. Enter, the Catholic Church. Flush with success over their appropriation of the Druid festival associated with the winter solstice, the Church set its sights on Lupercalia. No longer would men draw the names of young women from a box. Instead, they drew the names of Christian saints whose lives they were then required to study for the next year. (Oh, c'mon . . . you can see the appeal, can't you?) Alright. It was a spectacular marketing and public relations failure and the Church eventually abandoned all hope of gaining ground with Lupercalia. The only reminder of the Church's interference was success in changing the name of the festival to Valentine, as in St. Valentine. However you choose to celebrate the day with your lover, I wish you a rollicking good time, (if there's a bloody goatskin involved, I don't want to hear about it.) Since every day with GHIW is a celebration of Lupercalia, there won't be anything out of the ordinary at our house today - just me imagining the old days of drawing names from a box. Say, Dick Cheney drawing Maureen Dowd's name, or Jon Stewart with Ann Coulter . . . XXOXXOO


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