Most people take for granted the idea of Valentine’s Day as the "lover’s holiday." It is quite common for young children in school to exchange cards on this occasion, and for lovers to exchange gifts such as candy or flowers. But what is the real origin of this popular holiday, and why is it known as "Saint" Valentine’s Day?
Many reference works trace the name of the holiday to a third-century Roman Catholic martyr by the name of Valentine. Note, however, what the Encyclopaedia Britannica says on the subject: "St. Valentine’s Day as a lovers’ festival and the modern tradition of sending valentine cards have no relation to the saints but, rather, seem to be connected either with the Roman [sexual] fertility festival of the Lupercalia (February 15) or with the mating season of birds" (15th ed., vol. 10, p. 336).
In this "Lupercalia… the names of young women were put into a box and drawn out by men as chance directed" (Encyclopedia Americana, "St. Valentine’s Day"). This pairing off was, of course, linked with sexual immorality. That is where the phrase "Be my valentine" originated!
But where did the Lupercalia itself come from? It was celebrated in honor of the god Pan! In fact, "the name seems to be borrowed from the Greek name of Pan, Lycaeus, from lukos, a wolf... because Pan, as god of shepherds, protected sheep from the rapacity of wolves" (Lempriere’s Classical Dictionary, p. 339).
Who was Pan? "The worship, and the different functions of Pan, are derived from the mythology of the ancient Egyptians.... He was worshipped with the greatest solemnity over all Egypt.… He was the emblem of [fertility]" (Lempriere’s, p. 439). The legend of Pan as the hunter of wolves and protector of the flocks originates in the ancient biblical account of Nimrod, the "mighty hunter" against God (Genesis 10:9) and builder of the Tower of Babel (cf. Alexander Hislop, The Two Babylons, 1917).
This wicked ruler Nimrod was the original lupercus ("wolf hunter") and valentine ("strong man"). He is the same figure worshiped by the Phoenicians as Baal, and appears elsewhere in Scripture under the name Tammuz (Ezekiel 8:14). This Nimrod was no saint—he was a licentious man, and an enemy of God, who came to be worshiped by the pagans after his death. He is more accurately a symbol of lust and violence, rather than love.
In 496ad, Pope Gelasius "Christianized" the pagan Lupercalia by changing its name. He also shifted its day of observance from February 15 on the sunset-to-sunset calendar, to February 14 on the Roman calendar—thus keeping in place the timing of the old Lupercalia’s evening celebration.
The early Roman Catholic Church, seeking the allegiance of the pagan populace, attempted to "Christianize" the Roman Lupercalia festival along with other popular pagan celebrations. Purged of their most heinous elements and given new "Christian" names, celebrations popular from pagan antiquity continued among the people.
Was it right to do this? No! God instructs His people to take a far different approach: "Learn not the way of the heathen" (Jeremiah 10:2, KJV; cf. Deuteronomy 12:29–32). Instead of involving ourselves in commercialized holidays that are simply sanitized versions of ancient pagan sex rites, let us follow the ways of our Creator.
To learn more about "counterfeit" Christian celebrations, and the true Christianity that predated them, please write for our free booklet Restoring Original Christianity.