St. Valentine’s Day: Holy Days and Cultural Celebrations

“One of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, ‘Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ And He said to him, ‘“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets’” (Matthew 22:35-40; all Scripture quotations are from the New American Standard Bible).

“One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord…” (Romans 14:5-6).

Photo from PxHere.

Several years ago, one of my Facebook friends, who previously had been a member of the church where I was assistant pastor, posted a glowing Facebook message wishing his wife a “Happy Valentine’s Day.” One month later, he wrote a rant about how no true Christians should celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. After all, it was worshiping a saint and had pagan origins.

When I pointed out that he had celebrated St. Valentine’s Day, which has the same shortcomings, he became irate, insisting that he was not celebrating a saint’s day.

My friend’s response was similar to what I see among many who claim to be “Bible-believing Christians.” They object to many holidays that the Bible does not mention. This is especially true if one can find any connection to a non-Christian tradition. To some, even Christmas and Easter are pagan. This mindset reveals a weak understanding of Scripture, history, and the purpose of Christian holidays, and often reveals one’s personal bias. One is not likely to reject a holiday that appeals to their preferences.

Both St. Valentine’s Day and St. Patrick’s Day are named after early Christian leaders. Patrick was the fifth-century “apostle to the Irish,” generally credited with being the first missionary to convert a significant number of Irish people to Christianity. We are not as sure about Valentine; both a priest from Rome and bishop of Ternia, martyrs who died before 312, are commemorated on February 14. Christian biographer James Kiefer wrote that they were probably the same person. Both holidays were introduced to honor a church leader from the earliest centuries of Christianity.

Both are now cultural holidays, divorced from their Christian roots. Many people use St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate Irish culture. For many, it is an excuse to drink excessively. Shamrocks are everywhere, but few people mention that St. Patrick probably used these three-leafed clovers to illustrate the Trinity.

St. Valentine, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons

Likewise, St. Valentine’s Day has wandered from its Christian roots. Most people leave the “Saint” part out of the name now. According to many accounts, Bishop Valentine was imprisoned, tortured, and martyred for his faith. Eventually, his feast day was associated with romantic love. The original commemoration of a man who followed Christ even when threatened with death has disappeared from our modern celebration (one which celebrates not only marital love but may also be celebrated by those committing fornication and adultery).

So, should we celebrate Valentine’s Day? Should a Christian of Irish descent (like myself) celebrate St. Patrick’s Day? Those are the wrong questions. The fundamental question is, “How shall we celebrate any day?”

Jesus told us that the entire Law—God’s revealed will for our lives—is summarized by commands to love Him and our neighbors. We should devote every day to loving those around us as we love God. In one sense, every day should be St. Valentine’s Day. If we choose to make a special celebration on February 14, let it be a day to commemorate God’s love and to celebrate the people He has placed in our lives.

Likewise, I will continue to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but not by getting drunk. I will honor the more positive elements of my heritage. I will also honor the life of the man who first brought the Gospel to my ancestors’ homeland. I will likely read the two extant books we have from St. Patrick: his Confession (spiritual autobiography) and his letter to the servants of Coroticus (a British chieftain whom Patrick essentially excommunicated for participating in the slave trade).

In both cases, I will observe the day “for the Lord.” What can I learn from these men? How can I imitate their faith?

Let us love God, love our neighbors, and dedicate every day to His honor and glory.

Heavenly Father, show me how to love you, love my neighbor, and dedicate every day to Your glory. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

How can you use St. Valentine’s Day as an opportunity to share God’s love with others? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Copyright © 2023 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

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