Should You Keep Valentine’s Day?
On Feb. 14, couples around the world will express their love through Valentine’s Day gifts. But many deeply devoted Christian couples will not. Should you?
I recently returned from a pastoral trip visiting congregations of the Church of God in Ghana. Since I returned to the United States, it seems like every time I turn on a radio (mostly when I’m in the car) or see ads in the newspaper or on TV, I’m encouraged to buy flowers, candy, “unique gifts” or even a brand-new car for “someone special” for Valentine’s Day.
I have not observed Valentine’s Day for over 40 years. Why do my wife and I, as well as thousands of Christians around the world, choose not to observe this seemingly innocent, romantic holiday?
The details surrounding the origins of Valentine’s Day can be a bit muddy, but without a doubt it originated in pagan festivals focused on fertility rites. Most authoritative historical sources will cite the pagan Roman festival of Lupercalia as the genesis of the modern celebration. That three-day celebration was focused on purification, fertility and “love” (read that as sexual lust) among the young, single Roman population.
Most authoritative historical sources will cite the pagan Roman festival of Lupercalia as the genesis of the modern celebration. After sacrifices had been made (apparently both goats and dogs figured prominently in these sacrifices), bachelors would draw the names of young single women from an urn, and then they would be paired together for a year. In some cases these pairings would result in marriage, but not always. As Clyde Kilough, editor of Discern magazine, states on a Life, Hope & Truth video commentary, “The pagans knew how to mix a lot of illicit sex into their religious celebrations.”
Sometime before A.D. 500, the Catholic Pope Gelasius I “Christianized” the celebration by transforming it from a celebration of pagan fertility into a focus on a “Christian” saint. Valentine was the one chosen to be so honored (apparently, there were multiple Catholic saints with that name).
However, the “Christianized” celebration retained its focus on “love” and sex, including images of Cupid, the Roman god of love. Cupid was originally depicted to have sharpened his arrows of love on a grindstone whetted with the blood of an infant. That repulsive imagery was gradually replaced with a more commercially suitable image of a cute, pudgy baby during the 1800s.
To learn more about the origins of Valentine’s Day, read “Valentine’s Day Is Pagan? So What?”
Should Christians keep Valentine’s Day today?
Fast-forward to today. While many people generally understand the pagan origins of this celebration, they really don’t see a problem with keeping it as a day to send romantic gifts to their significant other. After all, it is a “harmless” holiday all about love, romance and sweetness toward that someone special in your life; how could that possibly be wrong?
The answer comes from some rather straightforward warnings in the Scriptures:
“Then it shall be, if you by any means forget the LORD your God, and follow other gods, and serve them and worship them, I testify against you this day that you shall surely perish” (Deuteronomy 8:19). To be clear, participating in Valentine’s Day is involving ourselves in the ancient worship practices of “other gods”—not the true God.
God doesn’t want His people adding pagan practices from other religions:
“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. … Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it” (Deuteronomy 12:30-32).
Some may want to argue that Valentine’s Day isn’t really that religious anymore, so these scriptures don’t apply. But that argument ignores the clear origins and the ancient focus on illicit sexual activity that was part of this practice. The fact that some may not consider it to be the same today does not remove the pagan origins that bring the practice down to us today. Nor does it change how the true God views these things.
Happy couples do not need to give gifts on Valentine’s Day to show their love for each other. Read our blog “3 Romantic Alternatives to Valentine’s Day” to learn more.