What is the origin of Valentine's day?

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What is the origin of Valentine's Day customs and symbols? Does God care that we celebrate it? Though hearts and roses are red, retailers and business owners see the green of money when it comes to celebrating Valentine's. Below are some fascinating facts about the holiday.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), based in the U.S., Americans continue to spend a record amount of cash celebrating Valentine's Day. In 2018, the average U.S. consumer spent roughly $143 on Valentine's Day-related gifts for a projected total of $19.6 billion dollars. 4.7 billion of this amount was projected to be spent on jewelry alone.

The year 2018 also saw approximately 144 million Valentine's Day cards exchanged for the holiday. It should also come as no shock that 75% of the holiday's candy sales comes from chocolate.

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The NRF also projects that in 2019 the average per person spending for Valentine's would go up to roughly $162. Total spending for the holiday is now above $20 billion. Those who spend the most on Valentine's are between the ages of 35 and 44, followed by those who are 25 to 34. Not suprisingly, men now spend more than twice the amount of money celebrating the holiday than women do.


Lovers in a Courtyard
Lovers in the Courtyard
Gustave Courbet, 1844

In a rising trend, Valentine gifts for pets continues to be popular. It is projected that in 2019 a total of $886 million will be shelled out to purchase pet-related merchandise for the holiday.

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, which eventually became the Valentine's holiday.

"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."

"After the conversion of the Imperial city (Rome), the Christians still continued, in the month of February, the annual celebration of the Lupercalia . . . " (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbons, Chapter 36, Part 3).

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 Saint Valentine.

"Early Christians were happier with the idea of a holiday (Valentine's) 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 this "saint" (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 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 evident in the festivities that occurred during the celebrations (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. 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.


Valentine's Symbols

Red roses were the favorite flower of Venus, the Roman goddess of love. Red is also a color that signifies strong feelings.

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 the origin of the familiar heart shape used for Valentine's celebration. 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 in modern times.

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 whether or not we celebrate the Valentine's holiday? Notice the following warning God gave to ancient 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 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 what they are doing.

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