Should Christians Celebrate Valentine’s Day?
With wariness over the commercialism attached to the day, a lot of people forgo Valentine’s Day entirely. With its reputation as a Hallmark-created holiday, the day has inspired people to seek out alternatives. Should Christians bother with the day supposedly dedicated to a Saint?
Like many Christian saints, St Valentine is traditionally the patron saint of many different things, including epilepsy. One popular myth about him holds that the saint carried out weddings in secret to prevent men from being conscripted by the Roman empire. The historical person behind this saint is a little more mysterious than would first seem to be the case.
There are a few different Roman saints who were martyred between the third and fifth centuries who could have been the historical Saint Valentine. These saints are the source of the tradition of writing ‘valentines,’ which the holiday still has in place to this day.
Like many other Christian holidays and festivals, St Valentine’s Day supplanted an older, pagan festival already being celebrated as “Lupercalia”. This event took place from 13 to 15 February and sought to gain the fertility gods’ approval. Men would sacrifice a goat and a dog, and proceed to whip women with the hides of these animals in the hopes of making them fertile.
Noel Lenski, is a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder. Participants, he told NPR, “were drunk. They were naked.” Men and women would then be randomly paired for the remainder of the festival via a matchmaking lottery.
The Catholic Church later sought to sanitise the event by dedicating it to the saint.
Nowadays, Valentine’s Day is marked by exchanging cards and gifts, with the day celebrating romantic love in a commercial way.
This celebration of romantic love brings with it a common complaint, namely that Valentine’s Day serves to elevate this particular form of love above others. The event serves to effectively lock out those who are single, divorced, or widowed. As Relevant notes, “You’re unlikely to see an entire month of commercials and merchandise leading up to Friendship Day (which is August 3, by the way).”
As with many occasions that involve gift-giving, Valentine’s Day is often criticised for the commercialism that the occasion now generates. The current rituals of buying Valentine’s Day gifts and going on fancy dinner dates are part of a relatively recent commercialisation of the holiday. The cards, gifts, and flowers purchased on 14 February generate some $18 billion each year.
For all its problems, Valentine’s Day can also be a day that celebrates love and generosity and, much like Christmas and Easter, there have been attempts to combat Valentine’s Day’s commercial excess.
For example, Wayside Chapel have dedicated a 2020 Valentine’s
fundraiser to the concept of giving people dignity instead of buying gifts. The fundraiser allows
people to ‘purchase’ items such as showers for people experiencing homelessness.
The question of whether or not Christians should celebrate Valentine’s Day, then, comes down to how to respond to a commercial event that has already been repurposed a number of times.