Should Christians Celebrate St. Valentine’s Day?
Written by Mike Bennett and Karen Meeker
Christianity is all about love, and so is St. Valentine’s Day, right? Would God want Christians to celebrate Valentine’s Day?
The newscasters were lamenting a report that a particular elementary school would no longer allow students to exchange valentines. (The same school had prohibited the exchange of candies the year before.) They mentioned that the reason it was being banned was because St. Valentine’s Day is a religious holiday.
Most people today don’t think much about Valentine’s Day being a religious holiday. It’s considered mainly a romantic holiday, with some cute customs for the kids. But it is a religious holiday all right. It’s not taught by the Bible, of course. But if you look back far enough, you find it was actually founded on a pre-Christian, pagan fertility festival that was later cloaked with Christianity.
The origin, though somewhat murky, is generally accepted as follows:
The ancient Roman festival Lupercalia is considered to be one precursor to Valentine’s Day. It was celebrated from Feb. 13-15 as a purification and fertility ceremony.
“To begin 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 or 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. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed the touch of the hides because it was believed to make them more fertile in the coming year.
“Later in the day, according to legend, 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. These matches often ended in marriage” (http://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day).
History goes on to record that in A.D. 496 Pope Gelasius established St. Valentine’s Day in an attempt to convert this pagan Roman fertility festival into a Christian holiday, thus retaining its attractions and making it easier for pagan people to accept Christianity. (It is unclear as to which Valentine was being honored by this day, since there were three individuals so named who tradition has it were martyred on Feb. 14.)
The Roman church was astute enough to keep the game of chance alive due to its popularity. But it replaced the women’s names with names of saints. Both men and women participated in the drawing and were told to emulate the life of the saint whose name they had drawn for the following year.
Gradually the Romans relinquished their pagan festival and replaced it with the church’s holiday. (You can find more information about the history of this holiday at http://facts.randomhistory.com/facts-about-valentines-day.html.)
Back to the present
It’s interesting that the origin of this widely accepted holiday lay in fertility rites—definitely not something we would want our elementary school children to participate in. And how many young couples would look at the cards and candy the same way if the message implied, “Let’s make a baby together”?
But the fertility aspect is long forgotten or ignored; and the United States, along with other areas of the world, has wholeheartedly endorsed its celebration. An estimated 141 million cards are exchanged worldwide (http://www.history.com/topics/valentines-day-facts)—making it the second largest card-sending holiday of the year (superseded only by Christmas).
What a boon to card and candy makers, not to mention florists!
But what would God think?
The Bible does not tell people to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day, or any other saint’s day, for that matter.
According to biblical terminology, a saint is a faithful Christian—one who has been called out of this world’s society and given God’s Spirit. For example, Paul wrote, “To the church of God which is at Corinth, to those who are sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints, with all who in every place call on the name of Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:2). Saints were not just the few famous holy people; the whole of God’s true church is made up of people the Bible calls saints. And the saints have never wanted anyone to pray to them or worship them, then or today (Acts 14:11-18; Revelation 19:10).
But even more, considering the pagan origins of Valentine’s Day, would God want His people to celebrate it? Here’s what He told His people:
“Do not inquire after their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods? I also will do likewise.’ You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way; for every abomination to the LORD which He hates they have done to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:30-31).
God is quite specific about how He wants to be worshipped and which festivals He wants His people to celebrate. Read more about this in our booklet Holidays to Holy Days: God's Plan for You.
Karen Meeker lives in Missouri with her husband of 50 years, George. Mike Bennett and his wife, Becky, live in Ohio, where he coordinates the blogs for cogwa.org.