Valentine’s Day has become a big deal. According to the National Retail Federation, Americans will spend an average of $146.84 on Valentine’s Day, with total sales expected to reach $19.7 billion, a 2016 TIME article reports.
But how did this all start?
Though no one has pinpointed the exact origin of the holiday, one good place to start is ancient Rome, where men hit on women by, well, hitting them.
The Romans celebrated the feast of Lupercalia from February 13 to 15. During the celebration men sacrificed a goat and a dog, then whipped women with the hides of the animals they had just slain. Historical accounts report that young women would line up for the men to hit them in the belief it would make them more fertile.
The brutal fete included a matchmaking lottery, in which young men drew the names of women from a jar. The couple would then be, coupled up for the duration of the festival – or longer, if the match was right.
The ancient Romans may also be responsible for the name of our modern day of love. Emperor Claudius II executed two men – both named Valentine – on Feb. 14 of different years in the 3rd century A.D. Their martyrdom was honored by the Catholic Church with the celebration of St. Valentine’s Day.
Pope Gelasius I combined St. Valentine’s Day with Lupercalia the 5th century to expel the pagan rituals. But the festival was more of a theatrical interpretation of what it had once been. It was a little more of a drunken revel but it remained a day to celebrate fertility and love.
Around the same time, the Normans celebrated Galatin’s Day. Galatin meant “lover of women.” That was likely confused with St. Valentine’s Day at some point, in part because they sound alike.
As the years went on, the holiday grew sweeter. Chaucer and Shakespeare romanticized it in their work, and it gained popularity throughout Britain and the rest of Europe. Handmade paper cards became the tokens-du-jour in the Middle Ages.
The Greeting Card Association estimates that as many as 145 million Valentine’s Day cards are purchased every year – and there is a lot to choose from. Hallmark makes 1,400 different varieties of cards to mark the day.