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FEBRUARY FERTILITY FESTIVALS

The association of the middle of February with love and fertility dates to ancient times. On the ancient Athens calendar, the period between mid-January and mid-February was the month of Gamelion, dedicated to the sacred marriage of Zeus and Hera.

In Ancient Rome, February 15 was Lupercalia. Plutarch wrote:

Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy.

The word Lupercalia comes from lupus, or wolf, so the holiday may be connected with the legendary wolf that suckled Romulus and Remus. Lupercalia was a festival local to the city of Rome. The more general Festival of Juno Februa, meaning "Juno the purifier" or "the chaste Juno," was celebrated on February 13-14. Pope Gelasius I (492-496) abolished Lupercalia. Some historians argue that Candlemas (then held on February 14, later moved to February 2) was promoted as its replacement, but this feast was already being celebrated in Jerusalem by AD 381. The pope also declared in 496 that the feast of St. Valentine would be on February 14.

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