February 12 2010, 9:36 AM
Like many of the holidays on our calendars, Valentine's Day traces its roots to raucous ancient times, when men danced naked and used goat- or dog-skin whips on young maidens in the hopes of increasing their fertility. That's according to classics professor Noel Lenski of the University of Colorado at Boulder, who adds that in those days the holiday was called Lupercalia, held each February 15. It remained wildly popular into the fifth century A.D. despite the consternation of Christians. But eventually society turned more prudish and celebrations of St. Valentine came into vogue, the professor tells National Geographic, noting that Christians in the third century A.D. pinned their legend on a supposed clergyman who performed marriages of Roman soldiers, flouting a ban by Emperor Claudius II. From there, we somehow got to modern Valentine's Day and an industry of love that is expected to generate $14.1 billion in retail sales in the United States alone. That's down from last year, as consumers are becoming thriftier. The Denver Business Journal predicts Sunday will be big for restaurants but "an unusually bad day for typical holiday beneficiaries like florists and jewelers." Not only is the recession a factor, the weekend means that men who often shop for presents during or after work, will instead take their partners out on the town.