IS THE FEAST OF ST. VALENTINE A CHRISTIAN CUSTOM?
THE DATE FEBRUARY 14 is known all over the world as “Valentine’s Day.” This is the day celebrated by lovers sending affectionate messages and gifts to each other, and many hearts were thrilled and soared to exhilarating heights upon propositioned: “Would you be my Valentine?” However, has anyone bothered to know what Valentine’s Day is really all about? Better still, must Christians look forward to its commemoration or celebration?
A CATHOLIC FEAST
Although “the religious significance of the day is now overshadowed by the nonreligious customs associated with it” (The Encyclopedia Americana, International Edition, Vol. 27, s.v. “Valentine, Saint,” p. 860), yet undoubtedly it has a religious beginning.
What is Valentine’s Day? Unknown to many, it is Catholic feast commemorating the martyrdom of two early Catholic saints:
“…feast commemorating the martyrdom of two early Christian saints of the same name but observed since the Middle Ages as a day for romantic customs (Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion, Vol. O-Z, Corpus Publications: Washington D.C., s.v. “Valentine’s Day,” p. 3632).
If who are these Valentines whose feast day falls on the fourteenth of February? Historians testify the following:
“…little is known of the Valentines whose names were later associated with love and courtship, except that one was a Roman priest and the other a bishop of Interamna (now Terni), both of whom were persecuted under the Emperor Claudius and apparently buried the same day on the Flaminian Way” (ibid.).
Some Catholic historians agreed that there were two Valentines as mentioned in the book we quoted above, however, there are Catholic historians who contend that there was only one Valentine:
“…there may have been only one Valentine, who perhaps was taken from one city to the other for execution, with the result that two cults arose” (The Encyclopedia Americana, p. 860).
But the controversy does not end there, for other historians say that there are “three Valentines”
“…three saints by the same name: a priest-physician martyred in Rome in 269; a bishop of Interamna, beheaded at Rome about 273; and a martyr in Africa who was put to death with several companions” (Modern Catholic Dictionary, John A. Hardon S.J., s.v. “Valentine’s Day,” p. 556).
Anyway, it is clear that Valentine’s Day is a feast day of a Catholic patron saint.
A PAGAN CUSTOM
What was the real story behind the Valentine’s day? This was a pagan feast. Valentine’s Day is also called “traditional lover’s day, going back to the pagan Lupercalia, in mid-February” (ibid.). It is a day when lovers traditionally exchange affectionate messages and gifts.
The sending of love notes on that date arose in the late Middle Ages and appears to have been accidental. The most plausible of several theories relates it to the medieval European (pagan) belief that birds begin to mate on that date. “This notion probably suggested that lovers should exchange messages and gifts on February 14. Once the custom was established, ‘valentine’ came to be applied both to the persons and their tokens of affection” (The Encyclopedia Americana, s.v. ‘‘Valentine’s Day,” p. 860).
Clearly enough, the practices associated with Valentine’s Day are of pagan origin.
FOLLY OF PAGANISM
What does the Bible say concerning pagans and their beliefs? What did the Apostles advise the Christians about the pagans? In Ephesians 4:17-18, Apostle Paul admonished the Christians, thus:
“This then is my word to you, and I urge it upon you in the Lord’s name. Give up living like pagans with their good-for-nothing notions. Their wits are beclouded, they are strangers to the life that is in God, because ignorance prevails among them and their minds have grown hard as stone.” (NEB)
The Apostles have sounded. True Christians should heed their call. We must give up living like pagans with their good-for-nothing notions. Of course, there may still be some lingering sentimental memories of long-gone Valentine’s Days, but we cannot remain in ignorance nor must we let our minds remain beclouded and grow hard as stone. Above all, we cannot risk becoming strangers to the life that is in God.