You may be sickeningly loved up this February 14th, or you may be still riding solo and heading to Bridge in search of true love/a mediocre one-night stand. Perhaps you just don’t care, and are more excited about your hot date with the library. But what is Valentine’s Day actually all about?
Although today’s commercialised candy and cupid fest may seem a touch on the saccharine side, the festival originates from a much darker, bloodier and more naked affair. In the Ancient Roman tradition of Lupercalia, which took place from 13th-15th February, young men would sacrifice animals, particularly goats, whose hide they would then use to whip unmarried women – according to superstition, this would make them fertile.
St Valentine’s Day itself started out without any romantic connotations – it began as a Christian celebration to honour the martyrdom of two saints of that name. But it became merged with Lupercalia following efforts by the Church to get rid of the pagan festival.
It wasn’t until centuries after that things took a turn for the lovey-dovey. During the Middle Ages, it was a commonly held belief in France and England that February 14th was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which kicked off the whole idea of a day dedicated to romance.
The holiday was later romanticised in the poetry of Chaucer and Shakespeare, who alluded to the tradition if two single people meet on Valentine’s morning, they will marry. After this, the holiday grew in popularity throughout Britain and Europe to become the festival we now know today.
And what better place than the city of dreaming spires to celebrate this Thursday? Oxford being Oxford, it is naturally full of its own bizarre Valentine’s traditions. According to local folklore, if an unmarried man crossed the threshold of a house on February 14th, he would marry the youngest daughter who lived there within the year.
Back in the 17th century, when the tradition of Valentine’s cards started to spread, in Oxfordshire it was customary instead to recite rhymes to their loved ones, with verses varying across the local villages. Children would go round the city singing these rhymes in the hope of receiving coins or small cakes.
Oxford has retained many romantic connotations, with films such as An Education and of course the Brideshead effect perpetuating the image – after all, if it’s good enough for Charles and Sebastian, it’s good enough for you and your sweetheart. So, whether you choose to celebrate this holiday in the manner of Brideshead, Shakespeare, or even the Ancient Romans (on second thoughts, let’s not go there) Oxford is probably one of the best places to spend it.