Millions send Valentine’s Day cards to express their affection for someone special. But how did this holiday originate? And does Valentine’s Day represent what true love is all about?
Every year, more than a billion Valentine cards are bought and sent throughout the world. The act of sending a nice card seems to fill a natural yearning to express how much we care for someone.
But does Valentine's Day really celebrate true, caring love? Or does this popular holiday actually promote something else?
Origins of Valentine's Day
When we think of Valentine's Day, we call to mind hearts, chocolates, flowers and expressions of love. Yet before joining in the fun, wouldn't it be wise to know where this tradition came from?
First, we should understand that Valentine's Day began when the early Roman Catholic Church tried to Christianize an ancient pagan Roman holiday called Lupercalia. That celebration was a licentious festival that honored Lupercus, the hero-hunter of wolves. This festival was so immensely popular among the Roman people that church leaders included it in their calendar, hoping to retain their new parishioners and turn them from sexual licentiousness to morality by linking it to a saint.
The saint they chose for this mid-February Roman festival was St. Valentine. One source explains: "St. Valentine is believed to have been a Roman priest who was martyred on this day [February 14] around [A.D.] 270. How he became the patron saint of lovers remains a mystery, but one theory is that the Church used the day of St. Valentine's martyrdom in an attempt to Christianize the old Roman Lupercalia, a pagan festival held around the middle of February.
"Part of the ancient ceremony entailed putting girls' names in a box and letting the boys draw them out. Couples would thus be paired off until the following year. The Church substituted saints' names for girls' names, in the hope that the participant would model his life after the saint whose name he drew.
"But by the 16th century, it was once again girls' names that ended up in the box. Eventually the custom of sending anonymous cards or messages to those one admired became the accepted way of celebrating St. Valentine's Day" (Helene Henderson and Sue Ellen Thompson, editors, Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, "Valentine's Day," 2005, p. 576).
Although all historical sources contain some of the same notions about how Valentine's Day developed, each one highlights another facet of the story. Another states: "Some people have tried to connect the historical Saint Valentine with the later practices of Valentine's Day by saying that the saint married couples despite the emperor's prohibition, or that he sent a note signed 'from your Valentine' to the daughter of his jailer.
"However, the early Christian saint Valentine probably had nothing to do with the traditions later celebrated on his feast day; it is simply by his placement in the Christian calendar that his name became associated with it. Later, the word valentine may have been confused with the Norman French word galantine , meaning lover of women, as the g and v were often interchangeable in common pronunciation.
"In any case, February 14 gradually became a traditional date for exchanging love messages, and Saint Valentine became the patron saint of lovers" ( Macmillan Profiles: Festivals and Holidays, 1999, p. 363).
Theories differ as to how a holiday for lovers developed in February. Some think the mating of birds at that time of year is connected with the tradition:
"One is based on the belief throughout rural Europe during the Middle Ages that the birds began to mate on February 14. Chaucer, in his 'Parliament of Foules,' refers to the belief in this way: For this was Seynt Valentyne's day. When every foul cometh ther to choose his mate" (Stephen Christianson, The American Book of Days, 2000, p. 139).
Regardless of the varied sources and ambiguous history of Valentine's Day, a few identifiable points continue to surface: Valentine's Day originated with an ancient pagan Roman feast called Lupercalia. That festival was based on fertility and sexual licentiousness. In the third century, the Roman Catholic Church attempted to Christianize the ancient festival practice by naming it after a martyr.
The hope was that the festival adherents would thereafter follow the examples of church saints, no longer engaging in the ancient practice of free sex while honoring an ancient god. Despite some success, the holiday still contributes to immorality among many and promotes a wrong view of love.
A counterfeit holiday
Something that is counterfeit always indicates there is something real that it stands in place of, the genuine article. Could the same be true of a holiday? The roots of Valentine's Day lie in a pagan festival, not the Bible. In the Catholic Church's efforts to "Christianize" a pagan festival to gain adherents, did it overlook the real thing—holidays that reflect God's perspective on love and giving?
In fact, what was overlooked in the adoption of pagan holidays was God's true Holy Days and what they mean. We can find all of God's Holy Days or festivals listed in Leviticus 23. And you can also find in the New Testament that Jesus Christ, the apostles and the entire early Church all kept those exact same festivals. Jude is apparently referring to these when he writes of "your love feasts" in Jude 12.
In contrast, the holidays that are widely celebrated in modern Christendom, including Valentine's Day, are not found in the pages of the Bible. Instead, they are largely rooted in ancient pagan holidays that have been given a veneer of Christianity. (If you want to know more about God's festivals, please request or download our free booklet God's Holy Day Plan: The Promise of Hope for All Mankind .)
Where does God stand on Valentine's Day?
We learn from the Bible that God is strictly opposed to any religious or secular holiday that keeps humankind blinded from His precious truth. Jesus said, "And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). God wants people to be truly free, not held captive by false beliefs and ideas.
The Bible reveals God's Holy Days and festivals. Each one illustrates a significant part of His ultimate love for humanity and His plan to save mankind—a love that led Jesus Christ to die for us while we were yet sinners. Valentine's Day has no part in the salvation of humanity. In fact, it stands in contradiction to it—originating as it does in sinful, pagan worship.
Valentine's Day may be acceptable to millions of people, but not to God. It substitutes human reasoning for God's truth. It focuses the attention of people on infatuation, not a deep abiding love, on "getting love," not giving or sacrificing for others.
God warns all who claim to represent Him, who claim to be Christians, to avoid the ways of the ancient pagans and their counterfeit holidays and feasts: "Observe and obey all these words which I command you, that it may go well with you and your children after you forever, when you do what is good and right in the sight of the Lord your God.
"When the Lord your God cuts off from before you the nations which you go to dispossess, and you displace them and dwell in their land, take heed to yourself that you are not ensnared to follow them, after they are destroyed from before you, and that you 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 . . . Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:28-32, emphasis added).
In fact, God told the Israelites to eradicate all elements of pagan worship among them (see verses 1-4).
God is keenly interested in our welfare. He created us and gave us His manual, the Bible, to follow so we can get the most out of this life and that He might give us eternal life forever.
Valentine's Day is rooted not in God's Word, but in ancient paganism. It is not from the true God but from this world and its false god, Satan (2 Corinthians 4:4). God says: "Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever" (1 John 2:15-17).
So to return to the issue raised up front: Should you ask someone to be your Valentine? Not if you care more about true love and about what God thinks.