The backstory of this holiday reveals that true love is not the real reason for it.
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Misting cologne into the air, a husband grins in the mirror with satisfaction. Everything has been set: a bundle of roses adorns the dining room table, tea light candles glimmer in the entryway, and tucked inside his pocket is an ivory gift box with a diamond bracelet for his wife. He straightens his tie, confident it will be the perfect Valentine’s Day.
Down the street, a club is packed with partiers guzzling specialty drinks and gyrating to the thud, thud, thud of overcharged bass. At the bar, a muscled male exchanges seductive glances with a green-eyed brunette, until they end up on the dance floor together.
Ten blocks away, a third-grader sits at home, holding a card given to her by a boy in her class earlier that day. While students had munched on chalky candy hearts and colored pictures of cupid, the teacher told them about the day’s origins.
Across the world, people consider Valentine’s Day a time to celebrate what is called love, in any form. It is a day for grandparents to show affection to grandchildren, husbands to wives, brothers to sisters, boyfriends to girlfriends.
In the Philippines, thousands of couples participate in the world’s largest kissing event. In Nigeria, husbands and wives dine at restaurants with family. In Brazil, concerts featuring romantic samba music occur nationwide.
While wearing hearts, being “in love,” and showing a “special someone” how much you care by gifting a teddy bear, chocolates or flowers may seem perfectly innocent, there is another side to this “Day for Lovers” most fail to consider.
Valentine’s Day is a booming multimillion-dollar industry. The Greeting Card Association says approximately 190 million Valentine’s Day cards are sent each year, excluding the hundreds of millions that schoolchildren exchange. Also, it is the number one holiday for florists, with more than 198 million roses produced for it in 2010.
According to the National Retail Survey, men routinely spend double the amount on Valentine’s Day than women do. “The average man plans to shell out $135.35 to impress the people in his life while women only expect to spend $72.28,” it stated.
But where did the holiday originate—and how did cards, the heart symbol and cupid come to be associated with it?
One legend purports Valentine was a Roman priest: “It is believed that the young priest rose to distinction after betraying Emperor Claudius in 270 AD by conducting illegitimate wedding ceremonies in the capital,” BBC reported. “Emperor Claudius claimed that married men made poor soldiers and consequently decreed that all marriages of younger citizens would be outlawed. Bishop Valentine, however, maintained that marriage was part of God’s plan and purpose for the world. He continued to conduct marriages in secret between young people, sometimes as young as twelve, in the name of love.
“His success gained him unwelcome notoriety, which became Bishop Valentine’s downfall. He was jailed and ultimately beheaded, but not before he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. It is thought that on the evening of his execution the bishop passed her a note which read ‘from your Valentine’. This story has blossomed into the defining tradition of Valentine’s Day” (ibid.).
But the customs related to this day began much earlier than AD 270. Since ancient times, mid-February has always been linked to sex and fertility. Ancient Athenians celebrated February as the month of Gamelion to commemorate the marriage of the Greek god Zeus to Hera—the goddess of women, marriage and childbirth.
“More than a Hallmark holiday, Valentine’s Day, like Halloween, is rooted in pagan partying,” National Geographic reported.
“The lovers’ holiday traces its roots to raucous annual Roman festivals where men stripped naked, grabbed goat- or dog-skin whips, and spanked young maidens in hopes of increasing their fertility, said classics professor Noel Lenski of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
“The annual pagan celebration, called Lupercalia, was held every year on February 15 and remained wildly popular well into the fifth century A.D.—at least 150 years after Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire.”
On the eve of Lupercalia, February 14, a holiday in honor of Juno, queen of the gods and patroness of marriage, was held. As part of the celebration, a “love lottery” took place, in which the city’s bachelors drew a young maiden’s name from a jar and became paired with her for the duration of the festival. The new couples were then often sexual partners for the rest of the year.
According to Encyclopaedia Britannica, Pope Gelasius I incorporated a form of the festival as the Feast of the Purification in AD 494. Yet it was not until 1415 that the custom started to become widespread—when Charles, the Duke of Orleans, sent the oldest-known recorded Valentine message to his wife while he was imprisoned at the Tower of London.
As the Catholic Church gained influence throughout Rome, the pagan custom of finding a sexual companion by lottery was abrogated. Despite the ban, the mid-February holiday in honor of St. Valentine was still used by Roman men to seek the affection of women. A tradition for the men to give loved ones handwritten messages of affection containing Valentine’s name was born.
The church attempted to “Christianize” Lupercalia even further. Instead of putting the names of girls into a box, the names of “saints” were drawn by both boys and girls. It was then each person’s duty to emulate the life of the saint whose name he or she had drawn.
Today, the holiday continues as a time to promote manufactured love—filled with trite greeting cards and ubiquitous heart-shaped candies. Many people feel obligated by societal expectations to buy gifts and send Valentine cards to loved ones. Others mark the day by indulging in casual sex.
Condom sales skyrocket before the “day for lovers.” The Indo-Asian News Service reported that the director of an online retail service said sales of condoms “increase up to 10-20 percent during Valentine’s week.”
The effects linger during the following months. The Nielsen Company revealed that in the second, third and fourth weeks of March, spending on at-home pregnancy and infertility tests exceeds $15 million.
The sexual side of Valentine’s Day shows its face even in the seemingly harmless parts of the day.
A common symbol of this day is Cupid, often pictured as a chubby, winged baby that shoots arrows to make people fall in love. This Roman god’s name derives from the Latin word cupido, meaning “desire.”
Today, Cupid’s arrow has become an accepted symbol of love. His name and image are frequently associated with Valentine’s Day cards, romantic gifts and dating services, as well as is the heart symbol, which is said to be the seat of emotion.
But is this really the case?
Of cupid’s arrow piercing the heart symbol, Jack Santino wrote in the book All Around The Year: Holidays and Celebrations in American Life, “It can also be seen as a symbolic representation of the male and female principles, the round and open heart shape indicating the female, the arrow through it a phallic male symbol. The heart and arrow would then represent the union of these two forces in sexual coition.”
The harm of the day runs deeper than ancient pagan sex-rites. Minds sucked into this “mandated” celebration often grow up with a wrong understanding of love.
In the book Sex – Its Unknown Dimension, David C. Pack explained this widespread misconception.
“Most in the modern age have been sold a false concept of love. This concept is perpetuated in literature, film and music, with endless intoning of lyrics about ‘love’—‘I love you, You are my one and only love, Let’s make “love,” I want to love you tonight,’ etc. Love has been mistakenly equated with romantic feelings, physical attraction or sexual desire—and illicit sexual relations. It is invariably confused with simple lust!
“All forms of lust are selfishly motivated. It is a desire to ‘have’ another person sexually, in order to gratify one’s own senses.
“This is the opposite of true love!
“The language of the New Testament, Greek, includes three distinct words that may be translated ‘love.’ We will briefly examine each of these words.
“Agape is spiritual love. This is the word used in Scripture to describe the love of God. It is pure, completely selfless love, which can only enter the human mind through God’s Spirit (Rom. 5:5). When God says that He is love, He is speaking of agape.
“Philia or Philadelphia can be translated as ‘brotherly love.’ This is natural human love between family members or friends.
“Eros is sexual love, as intended by God to exist within the confines of marriage. This is love that is expressed by the physical means of affection and sex. However, this is not the same as lust, which is expressed by different Greek words.
“True, mature love can be defined as genuine concern that is directed outwardly toward another. Love is unselfish. It is not focused on getting or taking, but rather is interested in the welfare of others, and is centered on the desire to give.
“Those motivated by love believe Christ’s statement, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ Though many have heard or read these words, very few actually apply them. To do so is contrary to human nature, which is essentially selfish.”
Valentine’s Day has always focused on getting: from getting a sex partner for the year in ancient times to getting affection, getting love—getting sex— today!
No matter how hard a person tries, or how sincere one is, the lust-filled pagan origins of Valentine’s Day cannot be ignored. God does not—and would never—condone such a holiday. Notice: “Thus says the Lord, Learn not the way of the heathen…For the customs of the people are vain…” (Jer. 10:2-3).
True love cannot be expressed once a year as part of a superficial holiday. Nor can it be found in a one-day affair of free sex that so often results in unwanted pregnancies, abortions, STDs, pain, depression or suicide. Instead, true love is focused on continually giving another person what he or she needs with no ulterior motives—in the way God commands (Rom. 13:9-10).