Valentine’s Day is lame, right? Or it’s awesome, if you’re coupled up, a fan of chocolate, and/or not a strong feminist. But why settle for ignoring, protesting, or even participating in this church-sanctioned holiday for lovers?
Lucky for you, an ancient Roman fertility festival takes place February 13-15 every year since at least 79 B.C. As it was wont to do, the Catholic Church commandeered this pagan holiday, Lupercalia, and turned it into St. Valentine’s Day to remind society of the pure, enduring love of Jesus or something. Yet Lupercalia endured and is still celebrated by high school Latin clubs throughout America. And it’s a fabulous celebration of the opposite of VD-type romance — whips in place of long-stemmed roses, goat skins rather than thigh-highs, and random sexual encounters instead of committed relationships.
There’s no reason to be cranky or stressed about the heart holiday when you can adopt this tradition with gusto. Let me set the scene: A group of upper-middle-class young men — strapping, of course, because McDonald’s hasn’t been invented yet — gather near the center of the city in the Lupercal cave, which marks the spot where the founders of Rome, twin orphans Romulus and Remus, were found by a she-wolf (lupa in Latin) who nursed them and raised them as her own. They await the priests of Faunus, god of forests and fields. What happened next will blow your mind:
The Luperci priests, or “brothers of the wolf,” sacrificed two goats and a dog to honor the she-wolf who suckled R&R. Although animal sacrifice is, ahem, less than ideal, you could follow in their footsteps by destroying something similarly “unclean,” like a 40-ounce bottle of Mickey’s malt liquor. Or, since Lupercalia assimilated the spring-cleaning festival of Februa, take your unworn, neglected clothing to the cash-or-trade thrift store of your choice, or actually do something with those Urban Outfitters catalogs you’ve been saving for “collages.”
Next, the Luperci and young men devoured the corpses with the feast-appropriate wine, milk, and honey, smeared the animals’ blood on their foreheads, and laughed like the crazies they were. Blood on your face isn’t fashionable right now, so instead hit the corner store for last-chance discounts on real Four Loko, call your friends or your nearest pizza delivery joint, and play Die Hard drinking games.
Those Romans could hardly work off the feast calories naked, so to imitate the she-wolf, they fashioned loincloths from the sacrifices’ skins. They made whips with the leftover furry scraps and left the feast to sprint along the city walls, where the Roman ladies (LADIES! Are you still with us?!) would line up for a lashing. You see, people back then didn’t know about Science, so they believed that women swatted with the Lupercalia whips would be blessed with fertility and easier, less deadly childbirth. Now that we know about, like, ovaries and stuff, the whipping part is just for your pleasure. Make sure to designate a safe word.
Unlike the recognition of coupledom common to contemporary Valentine’s Day, Lupercalia was about sexin’ it up with whomever, wherever. Love lotteries, “favors for favors,” and secret admirers were an integral part of the ritual. Ordinary social mores relaxed a bit, allowing unabashed flirting and even weirder sexual encounters than the Roman usual — yeah, we’re talkin’ beyond Caligula. So if you’re lonely on February 14, find a sex club, a Craigslist casual encounter, your closest goat and/or dog, or a ChatRoulette penis that turns you on, and enjoy semi-romantic, SAFE, no-strings-attached fun to get pumped about something other than those chalky heart-shaped candies that say “page me.”