Type of Holiday: Ancient
Date of Observation: February 15
Where Celebrated: Rome
Symbols and Customs: Blood, Februa, Goat, Milk, Wolf
Colors: Red and white, in the form of BLOOD and MILK , both played a part in the earliest observance of the Lupercalia. Nowadays these are the colors associated with Valentine’s Day, to which this ancient festival has been linked.
Related Holidays: Valentine’s Day
The Lupercalia was a festival in the ancient Roman religion, which scholars trace back to the sixth century B . C . E . Roman religion dominated Rome and influenced territories in its empire until Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity in the third century C . E . Ancient Roman religion was heavily influenced by the older Greek religion. Roman festivals therefore had much in common with those of the ancient Greeks. Not only were their gods and goddesses mostly the same as those in the Greek pantheon (though the Romans renamed them), but their religious festivals were observed with similar activities: ritual sacrifice, theatrical performances, games, and feasts.
The Lupercalia festival was held in honor of the WOLF who mothered Romulus and Remus, the legendary twin founders of Rome. During the original Roman celebration, members from two colleges of priests gathered at a cave on the Palatine Hill called the Lupercal-supposedly the cave where Romulus and Remus had been suckled by a she-wolf-and sacrificed a GOAT and a dog. The animals’ BLOOD was smeared on the foreheads of two young priests and then wiped away with wool dipped in MILK . The two young men stripped down to a goatskin loincloth and ran around the Palatine, striking everyone who approached them, especially the women, with thongs of goat skin called FEBRUA . It is believed that this was both a fertility ritual and a purification rite. It may also have been a very early example of “beating the bound, or reestablishing the borders of the early Palatine settlement.
There is some confusion over which god the Luperci or priests served; some say it was Faunus, a rural deity, and some say it was Pan, the god of shepherds who protected sheep from the danger of wolves. All that is certain is that by Caesar’s time, the annual ceremony had become a spectacular public sight, with young men running half-naked through the streets and provoking much good-natured hysteria among the women. February 15 was also the day when Mark Antony offered Julius Caesar the crown. Thanks to this historic event, and Shakespeare’s account of it in his play Julius Caesar, the Lupercalia is one of the best known of all Roman festivals.
It is interesting that such a rustic festival continued to be celebrated in Rome for centuries after it had been Christianized. Its survival can be partially credited to Augustus, who rebuilt the Lupercal in the first century B . C . E ., thus giving the celebration a boost. It continued to be observed until 494 C . E ., when Pope Gelasius I changed the day to the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary. There is some reason to believe that the Lupercalia was a forerunner of the modern VALENTINE’S DAY: Part of the ceremony involved putting girls’ names in a box and letting boys draw them out, thus pairing them off until the next Lupercalia.
The Free Dictionary