Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is observed on February 14 each year traditionally, by showing appreciation for the ones you love or adore and taking loved ones for a romantic dinner at a restaurant. This day is dedicated to marriage proposals or weddings. Many people give chocolates, greeting cards, jewelry or flowers, particularly roses, to their partners or admirers on Valentine’s Day.

Pagan origins of Valentine's Day

Valentine's Day was a pagan ritual started by pre-Christian Romans in the 4th century BCE, known as "Feast of the Wolf" or the Feast of Lupercalia, celebrated on February 15, in honor of Juno Februtis, the Roman goddess of women, fertility and marriage, and Pan the wolf, Roman god of nature. Pan was a god of fertility and aggressiveness, whose sexuality was symbolized by the young men ‘fertilizing’ women through whipping. The festival had its priesthood, called Luperci (brothers of the wolf). These “Luperci” were more than “priests” - they could be seen as the embodiment of Pan Lykaios himself. It has been observed that the young men were symbolizing “werewolves.”


Lupercalia (“The Wolf Festival”) was a bizarre ritual where skimpily clad young men would run around whipping women with goatskin thongs. The women were also almost naked. The running men were called Luperci, the wolf people, and were divided into two “colleges.” The main performance of this ritual was a lottery held to group young women to young men for "entertainment and pleasure." There were lots of offensive practices associated with this day. One of them was the lashing of young women by two young men, covered only with a bit of goatskin and goatskin and holding thongs smeared with the blood of sacrificial dogs and goats.  Wiping with these "sacred" thongs by these "holy men" was believed to make them better able to bear children. The festival had enough importance to have Julius Caesar establish a third college, the Iuliani, which was first headed by his loyal general, Mark Anthony, of Cleopatra fame. The celebration preserved well into Christian Rome before an archbishop of Rome forbade it. 

Christian Influence

As the Roman Empire developed, the sexual connotations and animal symbolism became subdued. Pan was not animal-looking anymore, - he was portrayed as a handsome young man. The god Mars replaced his cult. The Lupercalia ritual, though still presented, had degraded enough to be only performed by the lower classes. Eventually, they were officially abolished; yet the Christian authorities probably thought it was wiser to maintain the festival and its associations with love and marriage. It is a well-known fact that Christianity often replaced pagan celebrations with Christian ones. In the case of Lupercalia, a Christian patron of the festival was found in the person called St Valentine. A medieval Christian legend had St Valentine uphold love and marriage in front of Emperor Claudius who wanted to abolish it altogether. Although most scholars think that the story was probably made up, under the patronage of this St Valentine, the love connotations of the Lupercalia could be retained and survived until today.

The legend about the saint Valentine

According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, there are around 50 different Saint Valentines, all of whom are Christian martyrs of February 14, but 3 of them are the most popular. One of them was a priest from Rome, another was described as bishop of Interamna (modern Terni), and the third from Africa.

According to one legend which is more in line with the true nature of this celebration, St. Valentine was a saint of lovers, who had himself fallen in love with his captor's daughter.

Claudius II forbade marriage for young, single men, who made up his military because he thought that single men made better soldiers than the ones with wives and families. Valentine opposed Claudius and started performing marriages for young couples in secret. When his actions were revealed, and Claudius put him to death.

Festival Customs

Girls would place their names in a box, from which boys would randomly draw to discover their sexual partner. These partners exchanged presents as a sign of love, and often married.

To give this pagan festival Christian meaning, Pope Gelasius officially changed the February 15 Lupercalia festival to the February 14 St. Valentine's Day In 496. Pope Gelasius made small changes in the lottery of the pagan festival for young women. The names of saints replaced the names of young women. Men and women were permitted to draw from the box. The idea of this ritual was to shape their life after the saint they had selected for the rest of the year. However, it was once again girls’ names that ended up in the box by the 16th century.


Due to severe troubles that accompanied such a lottery, the French government banned the procedure in 1776. In Italy, Germany, Austria, and Hungry the ritual also disappeared over the years. In England, it had been banned earlier when the Puritans were influential during the 17th century.

The history of Valentine's Day is a powerful lesson for Muslims too. St. Valentine became a Saint who was trying to resist free sex. Although there was an attempt to Christianize the celebration, St. Valentine's day has gone back to its roots today. No one knows that the Church even tried to ban the St. Valentine's Day. Instead, most people think of romance, cupid and his arrow, which are reminders of pagan Rome. Eventually, the custom of sending anonymous cards or messages became the way to celebrate Valentine’s Day.

First increased interest about Valentine's day has been in the United States in the early 1800s during the Civil war and then in Canada, in the mid-19th century. Esther A. Howland produced one of the first commercial American Valentine's Day cards in the 1840s. The valentine industry has been blooming ever since.

Early versions of Valentine cards created of silk and lace and ornamented with flowers, ribbons, and images of cupids or birds appeared in England in the 1880s.


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