A Valentine’s Day History: From Beheading to Native Cupids and Roses

Christina Rose

Valentine’s Day is now celebrated around the world even in Indian country, though it began with early Roman saints, priests and martyrs. The holiday has moved through the centuries like a rolling stone picking up Native stereotypes, history and pow wows along the way.

Before colonization and Christianity spread throughout Europe, pagans and Indigenous Peoples made up much of the western world, with February 14 noted as a date of fertility celebrations for many. Long appreciated as a day of love, notes it as the day birds began to search for their mate, sparking a similar response in humans.

Coincidently, the Mojave tribe in California will be celebrating February 14 with a day of traditional bird dancing and bird song. Debby Bricker, accounting manager for the Mojave, said, “This is not related to Valentine’s Day. We usually try to schedule our Avi Kwa Ame Pow Wow on President’s Day weekend so everyone has an extra day, and it just happened to land on Valentine’s Day this year. It’s our 20th anniversary pow wow, so it will be a little special, and there may be some Valentine’s songs or dance, but none are scheduled.”

February 14 was also the date of the very early Roman festival Lupercalia, where goats and puppies were sacrificed in purification and fertility ceremonies. According to a National Public Radio article, women were whipped with the bloody stripped skin of goats, which they lined up for, hoping to increase their own fertility.

There were as many as three other Saint Valentine’s, but the most recognized St. Valentine sacrificed his life around the year 270 A.D. to perform marriages for young lovers. Saint Valentine was sentenced to death when Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage, believing single men made better warriors.


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