Think you know what Valentine’s Day is all about? Hearts and flowers? Candy and doilies?

Think again.

Valentine’s Day started as the ancient Roman ritual of Lupercalia, a fertility festival honoring Juno-Lupa, a She-Wolf who nursed Romulus and Remus, the human twins who founded Rome. Celebrated on February 14 even in the 4th century B.C., Lupercalia called for animal sacrifice, with the sacred blood then smeared onto the foreheads of unmarried noblemen dressed only in goatskin thongs. These blood-marked men then marauded in gangs, lashing young women with goatskin strips, called “februae,” to ensure their fertility. During the festival, the names of willing young women were placed into a box or urn, and each unmarried man drew a name to be matched with a girlfriend for the following year, which started in March.

By 500 A.D., the Catholic Church found all this a bit hard to stomach. Popes tried to tame Lupercalia into a Christian festival: young people could still have the Juno Februata lottery, but instead of being matched to a lover, they’d draw from a box of saint names to discover whose saintly life they’d try to emulate for the following year. Unsurprisingly, this did not catch on with young Romans, who began instead, on February 14, to write love notes to the young women they wished to court. Eventually, the Church simply assigned the ancient pagan Lupercalia to St. Valentine, a 3rd century priest martyred for marrying couples secretly, thus defying Claudius II’s ban on marriage for military-aged men.

We like Valentine’s Day even more, now that we know its robust history. Goatskin lash or not, it’s all about finding that bright door into your beloved’s heart. Happy Lupercalia!

Now, down to business:  Here are some Nashville favorites to call upon for your Valentine essentials:

Flowers?   Tulip Tree (615-352-1466); A Village of Flowers (615-369-3030); Oshi (615-254-6744); Import Flowers (615-297-0397); Emma’s (615-327-0202) and Flower Mart (615-490-3966)

Candy?  Bang Candy; Colts Chocolates; Goo Goo Shop; Nashville Toffee Company; Tempered Cafe and Chocolate; Kilwins; CoCo’s Italian Market Truffles!

EXPERIENCE?  Wine and Dine at any of Nashville’s fabulous restaurants BUT also consider a visit this weekend to The Antiques and Garden Show!