The South African look of love does abound on February 14th with flowers, chocolates, dates at the disco or even a trip to…a wildlife park. It’s true! Kruger National Park in the north of the country is a top Valentine’s destination for visitors. (And it’s teeming with rhinos, elephants, leopards and lions, too.)
But in South Africa, Valentine’s festivities begin weeks before the big day. Visit in early February and you’ll find homes, stores and restaurants decorated with ancient symbols of love—such as hearts, birds and, of course, Cupid. And on Valentine’s Day itself, it’s common for young South Africans to pin the name of their sweetheart on their sleeve. Although South Africans call this tradition Lupercalia in honor of an ancient Roman fertility festival, scholars suggest that the roots of this romantic ritual were actually laid by Pope Gelasius in the Middle Ages. The story goes it’s all because he banned what was considered an immorally pagan Lupercalia festival and replaced it with a day honoring the Patron Saint of Love, Saint Valentine. (A far cry from traditional Lupercalian festivities, when priests would sacrifice two male goats and a dog before anointing the foreheads of noblemen with the sacrificial blood.)
By the way, do you know where the phrase “to wear your heart on your sleeve” comes from? Although it was first recorded in the 1600s in Shakespeare’s play named Othello, during the Middle Ages a knight in battle would pin a lady’s handkerchief to his sleeve as a way of publicly proclaiming his undying (he hoped) love for her. Aw.