It’s Valentine’s Day again, which means we’ll all be buying cards, chocolates and flowers for our significant other (or ridiculing the holiday for its commercial vapidness). Since Valentine’s Day is one of the major holidays of the western world, you’ve probably heard the history:
We celebrate Valentine’s day in honor of St. Valentinus, who was martyred a long time ago around February 14th – the “romance” part is because he continued to marry soldiers during wartime; the crime that led to his death.
Except until the 18th Century, the “romantic” part wasn’t celebrated at all (although kind of referenced in some literature) and suddenly burst into being, with the popularity of mass-produced, factory-made Valentine’s Day cards. So how did we get from a guy dying for marriage – through an interim of around 1500 years – to the romantic meaning we have to day?
Like almost all western holidays, St. Valentine’s day is a massive Christian cover up.
Christian leaders soon learned that officially prohibiting a thousand-year-old cultural custom was impossible, so in every case (even the very minor holidays which they made Saints Days) they took the dates people were already celebrating and shifted the “why” – so that people could keep doing the activities they enjoyed, without becoming a threat to Church authority for disobedience.
In Roman times, February 13th to the 15th was Lupercalia, a fertility festival. People would run around with goat phalluses and chase after women playfully. It was THE love festival of the year.
Pope Gelasius abolished Lupercalia and then died in 496. The legends of a “Saint Valentine” (they are wispy and fragmentary) also say Valentine was martyred in 496.
By that time, “Christmas” celebrating Jesus’ birthday had already replaced Saturnalia (a winter festival celebrated with gifts, candles, bringing cut pine trees into the temple to signify the impregnation of the Mother goddess, and the beginning of Saturn’s reign – preparing for the long months of winter).
“Easter” was the period of mourning the savior’s death, then celebrating his return – similar rituals had been performed Osiris in Egypt, Attis and Dionysus in the North and East long before Jesus. (Isis had to go around and search for “pieces” of Osiris’ body so she could put him together and from him conceive – a myth I believe to have been acted out by hiding and finding eggs – a cultic object with ritual significance.)
Most Christians know that Christmas and Easter doesn’t really sync up with Jesus’ “actual” biography, and there are indicators in the Bible that our dates are wrong. But the ingrained social practices of the pagans were too ingrained not to celebrate those dates with the pre-Christian rituals.
So we do them anyway – even though they’ve lost their significance – and are tenuously given sanction as religious festivals. This knowledge is pretty common, and accepted by the majority of Christian leaders and authorities.
So it’s a little frustrating that the Lupercalia festival is so far cut off from its roots. The Wikipedia article on Lupercalia says “There is no evidence of any link between St. Valentine’s Day and the rites of the ancient Roman festival, despite many claims by many authors. The celebration of Saint Valentine did not have any romantic connotations until Chaucer’s poetry about “Valentines” in the 14th century.”
But it defies belief that we accidentally and arbitrarily evolved a common Saint’s Day into a major celebration of love and sex, when Rome already had a festival of lovemaking and libido during the same dates, and for over 1000 years.
There’s no phrase more dishonest, unfair and misleading than “there is no evidence of any link between…”
There’s also “no evidence of any link between” Christmas and Easter and pagan festivals (except that they performed all the same bizarre customs and rituals, on the same days of the year, as we do today). So small-minded people can say “it’s just a coincidence – there’s no PROOF” even when the truth is staring them in the face.
Was there a guy who deliberately set out to cover-up Lupercalia and turn it into a Christian festival? Probably, YES – and we have some documents of very similar coverups. But in this case, after 1500 years, it isn’t surprising that there isn’t a paper trail – although the Church’s backpaddling on the issue seems significant:
In 1969 the feast day of February 14th was removed from the Roman Calendar because “Though the memorial of Saint Valentine is ancient, apart from his name, nothing is known of Saint Valentine except that he was buried on the Via Flaminia on February 14.”
Basically, they needed a Saint’s day to coverup Lupercalia, so they sent someone to the cemetery looking for a guy who died on February 14th, and they came back with the name “Valentine.” Yes, that is how Saints were chosen. But Saints are required to have performed 3 verified miracles, so they obviously couldn’t keep pretending in this case when they knew nothing about him.
Not everybody is ready to give up Valentine – in Balzan (Malta) they’re still clutching the “relics” of the Saint, and defying the “decalendering” of the Second Vatican Council.
But under the progressive, liberal environment of contemporary times, a lot of people are beginning to point out the obvious – the whole thing stinks, and the “Christianizing” of pagan holidays is so confusing, dishonest and ridiculous, it’s funny.
Here’s a bit Steven Colbert did in 2013 on Lupercalia. The audience laughs nervously because they don’t know the history, and aren’t sure if Steven is making crazy shit up just for fun. He isn’t.