Lupercalia was a holiday celebrated by ancient Romans on the Ides of February (February 15). The celebration honored the gods Lupercus and Faunus, as well as the twin brothers Romulus and Remus, the legendary founders of Rome.

According to myth, Romulus and Remus were suckled by wolves at a cave on the Palatine Hill, in the city of Rome. The Romans appropriately named this cave the Lupercal, and used it as the center of Lupercalia ceremonies.

Luperci (priests of Lupercus), dressed in goatskins for the ceremony, would sacrifice goats and a dog, smear themselves with sacrificial blood, and run around the hill carrying a goatskin thong called a februa ("means of purification"). Women in the city placed themselves in positions around the hill so that the priests could strike them with the februa. This was thought to assure the women of fertility and easy childbirth.

In another part of the ceremony, priests would pair up the young men and women in the city by writing down names of the girls and collecting them in a box. Boys then individually drew girls' names from the box, and became paired with them until the following Lupercalia.

Those in the Christian Faith would be surprised to learn the true origins of Valentine's Day. What we call Valentine's Day was at one time the Feast of St. Valentine. In AD 496, Pope Gelasius outlawed the pagan festival. But he was clever to replace it with a similar celebration, although one deemed morally suitable. He needed a "lovers" saint to replace the pagan deity Lupercus.

The martyred Bishop Valentine was chosen as the patron saint of the new festival. According to church tradition St. Valentine was a priest near Rome in about the year 270 A.D. At that time the Roman Emperor was imprisoning Christians for not worshipping the Roman gods. During this persecution Valentine was arrested.

Claudius was convinced that married men made poor soldiers, and that the numbers of his armies would dwindle due to married men refusing to enlist, so he decided to outlaw marriage. Saint Valentine was executed around the year 270 AD, allegedly on February 14, for helping young lovers marry against the wishes of the Roman emperor Claudius.

Before execution, Valentine himself had fallen in love with his jailer's daughter. He signed his final note to her, "From Your Valentine", a phrase that has lasted through the centuries.

Some vestiges of the holiday remain part of contemporary culture. For instance, the holiday itself is mentioned in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar (III.ii); the month of February received its name from the februa; and the ceremonial pairing of the Roman boys and girls was probably the forerunner to modern Valentine's Day customs (consider that Lupercalia is the 'Ides of February', which is generally accepted as the 15th of the month; yet Valentine's Day is the 14th - the *true* middle of the month with 28 days!).

People began sending love notes on Valentine's Day in the late Middle Ages. Medieval Europeans believed that birds began to mate on February 14 and wished to emulate them. Both theories blend fact and fancy, so it is impossible to separate them. We know the first paper valentines date back to the 1500s and enterprising Yankees soon were making money selling valentines.

Esther A. Howland, who produced one of the first commercial American valentines in the 1840s, sold $5,000 worth - when $5,000 was a lot of money - the first year. Americans are such eager lovers that the valentine industry has been booming ever since.