It’s February 13 once again, and tomorrow, people will celebrate Valentine’s Day. A day of romance, love, sweet affection, and what else. But is Valentine’s Day a celebration for Christians? Is it scriptural or pagan?
Legend of Valentine’s Day
The history of this celebration is actually shrouded with mystery. And for what I know, Christendom has been celebrating Valentine’s Day for so centuries.
There are at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus that the Catholic church recognizes as the patron the celebration, and all of whom were martyred. One legend offers that Valentine was a priest who served in the third-century Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided that single men made better soldiers than those with wives and families, he outlawed marriage for young men. Valentine realized the injustice of the decree and defied Claudius. He continued to perform marriages for young lovers in secret, and when Valentine’s actions were discovered, Claudius ordered that he be put to death.
Other stories contends that Valentine may have been killed for attempting to help Christians escape harsh Roman prisons, where they were often beaten and tortured. According to one legend, an imprisoned Valentine actually sent the first “valentine” greeting himself after he fell in love with a young girl—who possibly, some assert as, was his jailor’s daughter who visited him during his confinement. It is alleged that he wrote her a letter before his death, and signed, “From your Valentine”—an expression that is still in use today. The stories all emphasize his appeal as a sympathetic, heroic and, most importantly, romantic figure, and all these despite the murky truth behind the Valentine legends. By the Middle Ages, Valentine would become one of the most popular saints in England and France, perhaps thanks to this reputation.
Origins of Valentine’s Day: A Pagan Festival in February
While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial—which probably occurred around AD 270—others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to “Christianize” the pagan celebration of Lupercalia—in the same way that they have “Christianize” Saturnalia as Christmas. Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the founders of Rome, the twins Romulus and Remus. The celebration takes at the ides of February, or February 15.
To announce the commencement of the festival, members of the Luperci—an order of Roman priests—would gather at a sacred cave where the infants Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, were believed to have been cared for by a she-wolf, Lupa. The priests would sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification. They would, then, strip the goat’s hide into strips, dip them into the sacrificial blood and take to the streets, gently slapping both women and crop fields with the goat hide. Roman women, far from being fearful, welcomed the touch of the hides as it was believed to make them even more fertile in the coming year. According to legends, later in the day all the young women in the city would place their names in a big urn. The city’s bachelors would each choose a name and become paired for the year with his chosen woman, and these matches often ended in marriage.
Valentine’s Day: A Day of Romance
Lupercalia survived the initial rise of Christianity and but was outlawed—as it was deemed “un-Christian”—at the end of the fifth century when Pope Gelasius declared February 14 St. Valentine’s Day. Much like with Christmas, the Catholic church adopted Lupercalia to pacify their converts from rioting because their tradition has been deleted by the new faith they were in. They removed the practices that they deemed gruesome and unfitting for Christians and asscociated the holiday to a saint. It was not until much later, however, that the day became definitively associated with love. During the Middle Ages, it was commonly believed in France and England that February 14 was the beginning of birds’ mating season, which added to the idea that the middle of Valentine’s Day should be a day for romance.
Valentine greetings were popular as far back as the Middle Ages, though written Valentine’s didn’t begin to appear until after 1400. The oldest known valentine still in existence today was a poem written in 1415 by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London following his capture at the Battle of Agincourt. (The greeting is now part of the manuscript collection of the British Library in London, England.) Several years later, it is believed that King Henry V hired a writer named John Lydgate to compose a valentine note to Catherine of Valois.
Valentine’s Day: A Christian Celebration?
Is it right for a Christian to celebrate Valentine’s Day, a holiday with pagan roots? The Bible warns us, “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons.”
Keep in mind, too, that the origin of religious celebrations has a bearing on whether they please God or not. (Isaiah 52:11; Revelation 18:4) Maybe you feel that the origins of holidays have little to do with how they are celebrated today. Do origins really matter? Yes! To illustrate: Suppose you saw a piece of candy lying in the gutter. Would you pick up that candy and eat it? Of course not! That candy is unclean. Like that candy, holidays may seem sweet, but they have been picked up from unclean places. To take a stand for true worship, we need to have a viewpoint like that of the prophet Isaiah, who told true worshipers: “Touch nothing unclean.”—Isaiah 52:11.