Another “celebration” of Valentine’s Day now complete, a sort of capitalistic ritual where people consume even more than they do usually, all of that in the name of “love.”
The National Retail Federation (NRT), the world’s largest retail trade association, estimates that people may spend up to $23.9 billion. Not a bad haul for consumer capitalism.
But, as Muslims, we have our own standards, which aren’t limited to economic profits: indeed, we should be aware of what celebrating such a holiday, with all its history and symbols, implies for our religion.
The Pagan Origins
As with pretty much everything in Christianity, from festivities to theology, Valentine’s Day has an obvious pagan genealogy.
Journalist Sydney Combs writes for National Geographic that:
The earliest possible origin story of Valentine’s Day is the pagan holiday Lupercalia. Occurring for centuries in the middle of February, the holiday celebrates fertility. Men would strip naked and sacrifice a goat and dog. Young boys would then take strips of hide from the sacrificed animals and use it to whip young women, to promote fertility.
Lupercalia was popular and one of the few pagan holidays still celebrated 150 years after Christianity was legalized in the Roman Empire.
When Pope Gelasius came to power in the late fifth century he put an end to Lupercalia. Soon after, the Catholic church declared February 14 to be a day of feasts to celebrate the martyred Saint Valentine.
Noel Lenski, a historian at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Lupercalia was “clearly a very popular thing, even in an environment where the Christians are trying to close it down.” In an interview with NPR Lenski theorizes that the feast was meant to replace Lupercalia. “So there’s reason to think that the Christians might instead have said, okay, we’ll just call this a Christian festival,” he said.