Not everyone loves St. Valentine
The religious police in Saudi Arabia, in 2002 and 2008, banned the sale of all Valentine's Day related items. The police warned shop workers to remove any items colored red as they consider Valentine's Day a Christian holiday. In 2008, this ban created a black market for roses and wrapping paper.
In Pakistan, the Jamaat-e-Islami political party has called for the banning of the holiday. Despite this declaration, the celebration of Valentine's Day has grown increasingly popular. Florists expect to sell a large amount of flowers, especially red roses.
In Iran, conservatives have harshly criticized the holiday. They view the day as opposed to Islamic culture. The Iranian printing works owners' union, in 2011, issued a directive banning the printing and distribution of any goods promoting the Valentine's holiday such as cards, gifts, teddy bears, posters, boxes printed with hearts or half-hearts and red roses. Banned are also activities that promote the holiday. The union warned, "Outlets that violate this will be legally dealt with."
How did we get Valentine's Day?
In 313 A.D., Roman Emperor Constantine the Great legalized Christianity and ended Rome's persecution of Christians. In 380 A.D., Christianity becomes the OFFICIAL state religion of the Roman Empire. These actions not only enabled the teachings of Christianity to spread unhindered within the empire, it encouraged non-Christians to convert to the once-persecuted religion.
The pagans, however, who adopted Christianity as their religion did not entirely abandon the traditions and practices they held before their "conversion." One of these traditions brought into the church was the fertility celebration known as the Lupercalia:
"Yet the vestiges of superstition were not absolutely obliterated, and the festival of the Lupercalia, whose origin had preceded the foundation of Rome, was still celebrated under the reign of Anthemius." (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbons, Chapter 36, Part 3)
Western Roman Emperor Anthemius ruled the empire from 467 to 472 A.D. Mr. Gibbons goes on to state:
"After the conversion of the Imperial city (Rome), the Christians still continued, in the month of February, the annual celebration of the Lupercalia; to which they ascribed a secret and mysterious influence on the genial powers of the animal and vegetable world. "
| Victorian Era Valentine's Day Card
Twenty-four years after the death of Emperor Anthemius a "Christianized" form of the festival of Lupercalia was officially adopted by the church as a time to honor a saint - St. Valentine:
"As far back as 496 A.D., (Catholic) Pope Gelasius changed Lupercalia on February 15 to St. Valentine's Day on February 14." (Customs and Holidays Around the World by Lavinia Dobler)
"Early Christians were happier with the idea of a holiday honoring the saint of romantic causes than with one recognizing a pagan festival. In 496 A.D., Pope Gelasius named February 14 in honor of St. Valentine as the patron saint of lovers. " (How Valentine's Day Works, Apr. 1, 2000, retrieved Jan. 11, 2011)
February 14th as the day to honor Saint Valentine (the Catholic Church currently recognizes at least three different martyred saints named Valentine or Valentinus) stayed on the church's Calendar of Saints until 1969 A.D. Pope Paul VI removed it from the calendar.
What was the festival of the Lupercalia?
The Lupercalia festival was partly in honor of Lupa, the she-wolf who (according to legend) nursed the infant orphans Romulus and Remus. Roman legend states that Romulus and Remus founded the city of Rome in 753 B.C. The pagan festival was also in honor of the Roman god Lupercus who was the god of shepherds. Lupercus was Rome's equivalent to the Greek god Pan.
The link between the Lupercalia, fertility, and romance in general is clearly evident in the festivities that occurred during the celebrations:
"To begin the festival, members of the Luperci, an order of Roman priests, would gather at the 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 then sacrifice a goat, for fertility, and a dog, for purification.
"The boys then sliced the goat's hide into strips, dipped them in the sacrificial blood and took to the streets, gently slapping both women and fields of crops with the goathide strips. Far from being fearful, Roman women welcomed being touched with the hides because it was believed the strips would 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 out of the urn and be paired for the year with his chosen woman. These matches often ended in marriage." (Valentine's Day, History Channel web site, retrieved Jan. 10, 2011)
The Greek historian Plutarch (c. 46 to 120 A.D.) also describes the Lupercalia and its relationship to fertility:
"Lupercalia, of which many write that it was anciently celebrated by shepherds, and has also some connection with the Arcadian Lycaea. At this time, many of the noble youths and of the magistrates run up and down through the city naked, for sport and laughter striking those they meet with shaggy thongs. And many women of rank also purposely get in their way, and like children at school present their hands to be struck, believing that the pregnant will thus be helped in delivery, and the barren to pregnancy."
The second-century Christian apologist Justin Martyr further links the worship of pagan gods to the Lupercalia when he writes of an image of "the Lycaean god, whom the Greeks call Pan and the Romans Lupercus," who is nude save for a girdle of goatskin, which stood in the Lupercal, the cave where Romulus and Remus were suckled by a she-wolf.
Symbols of Valentine's Day
Red roses were the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Red is also a color that signifies strong feelings.
Doves are symbols of loyalty and love because they mate for life, and share the care of their babies.
In Roman mythology, Cupid is the god of desire, affection, and erotic love. Cupid today appears shooting his bow to inspire romantic love.
It is unclear where the familiar heart shape originated. One possibility involves the now-extinct North African plant silphium. The city-state of Cyrene had a lucrative trade in the plant, which looks just like the heart shape used today. .
Sources: How Valentine's Day Works, HowStuffWorks.com, retrieved Jan. 10, 2011 Where did the ubiquitous Valentine's symbol come from? from Slate.com
Does it MATTER?
Does it matter that the church adopted an ancient festival used to worship pagan gods and promote fertility to worship the God of the Bible? Does God really CARE what customs are used to worship and honor Him or what holidays we celebrate?
Notice the following warning God gave to Israel:
"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 . . . " (Deuteronomy 12:29-31, NKJV)
Note that the issue in this passage is NOT the worship of other gods. The warning is to not adopt CUSTOMS used to worship or honor other gods in order to serve and worship the true God.
The true origin of Valentine's day and its symbols are rooted in the worship of false gods. It has no Biblical basis. Those who celebrate the holiday and consider themselves believers in the God of the Bible need to take a prayerful look at their observance of the holiday.