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Why Valentine's Day Is the New Halloween

10/02/2015 13:58 GMT | Updated 12/04/2015 10:59 BST

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With its excess of parties, sweets and decorations, the dark and ancient Pagan festival of Samhain morphed into 'Halloween': the new Christmas.

I think, in a similar vein, the bloody history of Valentine's Day's means it's becoming the new Halloween.

Valentine's Day Origins: Bits and Pieces

The day we all know and 'love' as a day for romantic celebration is called St Valentine's Day yet there may have been more than one version of Valentine or Valentinus. However the two main stories, concerning Valentine of Terni and Valentine of Rome, could also refer to the same person. Scholars are still undecided.

What is known is that around AD 200 Valentine, Bishop of Terni, was imprisoned, tortured, beaten with clubs and beheaded in Rome for his Christianity by the Emperor Claudius. His skull is in the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin, Rome, and is a rather more gruesome reminder of the martyred Saint than a fluffy teddy bear holding a heart.

Skull of St Valentine, Wikicommons

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Further relics (in the UK) include "A vessel tinged with his blood" at Whitefriar Street Church in Dublin; parts housed at The Birmingham Oratory and his forearm in Blessed John Duns Scotus' Church, Glasgow, in a wooden chest inscribed "Corpus Valentini Martyris."

Feast Date:

It wasn't until circa AD 500 that Pope Gelasius declared 14th February St Valentine's Day, a Christian feast day. It's been theorised that the date wasn't arbitrary: it was placed during the already established Roman/Pagan Feast of Lupercalia, a fertility festival held over 13th to 15th Feb, during which men violently thrashed naked women with goat-skin whips to "improve fertility". This successful method of superimposing new Christian festivals onto already existing ones is, of course, why we have Halloween on October 31st and All Hallows or All Saints on November 1st - both on the Pagan festival of Samhain.

The Strasbourg Massacre

Years later, as the Black Death swept across Europe, it was noticed that Jewish communities were slightly less affected than others generally. This led to fear and subsequently persecution of the Jews who were accused of poisoning wells with the plague and bringing about the Black Death.

The Strasbourg massacre occurred on February 14, 1349, when 900 Jews were publicly burnt to death, and the rest of them expelled from the city which hadn't yet been affected by the plague, simply because of suspicion. It's been theorised that their religious practice of frequently washing reduced their rate of infection - at the time most men and women bathed only once or twice a year.

Valentines Day Cards

It was 1913 when Valentine's Day truly became a Hallmark holiday: the sweet, schmaltzy gift-giving day we are now used to. The funny thing about these 'love notes' is that many are incredibly dark, creepy and threatening. There is also a lot of crossover with Halloween on these original love notes. (Like in the title picture.)

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The St Valentine's Day Massacre

Al Capone chose Valentine's Day in 1929 to have his men carry out one of the most savage shootings in the history of Chicago's turf war: The St Valentine's Day Massacre. In total

seven men were gunned down in cold blood in a garage North Clark Street and it savagely achieved its purpose--the elimination of the last challenge to Al Capone for the mantle of crime boss in Chicago. Despite him never being officially linked to the massacre, it's claimed he was responsible and the term "St Valentine's Day Massacre" has gone down in history for anything violent occurring on the day and has entered Valentine's Day folklore. Ted Danson's character in Becker (for example) stated that "the only person ever to celebrate Valentine's Day right was Al Capone" and he echoes the anti-Valentine's sentiment expressed by most people nowadays.

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The Current Trends

Fast forward to now and we watch films like My Bloody Valentine and Lover's Lane, as well as attend anti-valentines parties and 'Valentine's Day Massacre' speakeasies. I am teaching couples how to preserve real hearts at my museum, amid a huge bloody heart installation by Robin Lee, and Art Macabre is holding an anti-valentines Death Drawing class, all of which have tapped into the vein of darkness running through what was once a celebration of love.

With its history of beheadings and body parts, shooting, imprisonment, threats and more - you can see why I think Valentine's Day is becoming the new Halloween.