Valentine's Day & Paganism
By: Terri Gascho
DID YOU KNOW, that the day we celebrate love and affection with our significant others, actually has a dark inception? Forget the roses, the chocolates and the date night. The 50% off chocolate on the 15th and the endless engagement posts you’ll be sure to scroll past. Forget the candles, forget the gifts and forget the candy grams. The truth is, it’s much more than what we know it to be today, so let’s start at the beginning.
Before the 1st century, the Roman Empire celebrated the festival known as, Lupercalia, which was meant to ensure fertility for the people, for their fields and their flocks. Seeing that the Romans were polytheistic (believing in and worshipping more than one god), we don’t know exactly which god they may have been worshipping. If we compare Grecian culture with the beliefs practiced during the reign of the Roman empire, similarities may be found in Aphrodite, Goddess of love, beauty, and sexual passion. Seeing that, Lupercalia was on that same track. Now let’s get into the timeline and details. Lupercalia was held mid-February, from the 13th to the 15th, and was originally celebrated by shepherds. The shepherds would sacrifice a goat and a dog and would then proceed to strike women with the animal hides. Greek philosopher, Plutarch, wrote in Chapter 61 of his work, The Life of Julius Caesar, that during this time many of the noble youth and judicial officers would run up and down through the city naked with animal hides in hand. This was done for sport and laughter... running through the streets buck nude was meant to be entertaining. When they ran around au naturel, women would line up and offer themselves to be hit by these men, believing it would make them fertile...
During my research, I came across an article that described the festival as a “brutal fete”, yet regardless of the brutality, a matchmaking lottery was included. Young men drew a woman’s name from a jar. If the match was right, they’d be paired together for the remainder of the festival. Only if relationships and the “matchmaking” process were that easy today! Can you imagine?
I’m sure some of you wouldn’t be opposed to this at all, so before anybody gets any ideas, let’s move forward with the history lesson. Fast forward a few centuries and we have the Catholic church, who chose to Christianize the festival. People were converting to Christianity from paganism and the day was still marked as a celebration of love and fertility. Which brings us to Emperor Claudius II and two or three clerics named Valentine. One of the clerics was executed on February 14th because he was found guilty for performing marriages in secret. You see, Emperor Claudius banned marriage for all the young Roman men (poor guys), because he thought single men would make better soldiers. Fast forward once again to the end of the 5th Century and Pope Gelasius declared February 14th “the day to honour the softhearted cleric” who gave his life in service of people's’ happiness.
Let’s look at all of this in a Christian’s perspective. I’ve asked my pastor/dad to join us. He is one of the most gracious, firm, loving and correcting men you’ll ever meet. So obviously, his opinion is valid. I may be biased.
Terri: So dad, how do you feel about Valentine’s Day having pagan roots?
Dad: These particular details you’ve brought out, I was not aware of. And although the Roman Catholic church is not my church and its traditions are not my traditions, I do applaud the action of the pope of that day, in recognizing the good work of the clerics who decided to support marriage. We can’t call it a Christian holiday, but we certainly can’t demonize it either. It’s not about worshipping a pagan god, it’s about some men who held the sacred position that marriage is God’s plan... And that should be celebrated.
Terri: Are we offending God or supporting pagan religion when taking part in Valentine’s Day?
Dad: The details we’ve already discussed, put a noble face on Valentine’s Day. However, there are other aspects of Greek and Roman paganism that have found their way into the equation. Do I believe that God is angry because a Christian gives a card with cupid on it to another person and says ‘I love you’? I don’t know if I can make a determination on God’s behalf. Knowing what I know, I personally would not buy a card with a cupid on it. A heart? Yes. Simply because I do understand the rest of the story about cupid. Again, is God angry? I don’t think so, I think God knows our hearts, that we are not honouring any of the pagan gods. It is simply mixed into our culture and we would have a very difficult time trying to remove all of the pagan influences that are in our culture. It’s like the Feast of Unleavened Bread, in which the Jews were instructed to remove every last bit of leaven from the homes. Although they did their very best to do so, it was simply another lesson that they could not do this and they needed to trust in the work of Jesus Christ and not their own efforts. Yes, we need to try to remove all possible contamination from paganism in our lives, but in order to do that we would literally need to be removed from the Earth in its fallen state.
Terri: What is one thing you’ve learned in your lifetime about loving people who don’t share your same viewpoint?
Dad: Well, more importantly than anything else is that Jesus does that. Loving someone who is different is not a stamp of approval on their life, but it is a stamp of God’s heart in us, who loved us when we did not love Him. So we simply follow His example and love everyone, pray for everyone and do what we can to rescue them from an eternity without God.
Like I said before my dad is fair, gracious, and unapologetic and is definitely something I strive for in my own personal life. I hold his opinion in that we are to show our love even if people’s lifestyles are not godly. Now, whether you choose to participate in Valentine’s Day or not, it’s up to you and your own personal convictions on the matter. Do what you will with the information presented.
In conclusion, we have learned the origin, 'Christianization' and accommodation of what is now a worldwide celebration known as Valentine’s Day. We honour a man who over 1,000 years ago decided that marriage was still sacred and holy, regardless of the law and the effects of war. And as population Earth continues to celebrate, let’s join them in remembering that love and affection isn’t something to be shown or declared once a year, but as part of our everyday lives. If I had to choose one thing that my parents have shown me the past 25 years, it is that they tell and show each other every day that they love, value, and appreciate one another. Love. Value. Appreciate. Share.
Ephesians 5:22-33 (NIV)
22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.