Christians and Valentine’s Day: Should Christians Celebrate?

  • By: Jac Filer
  • Time to read: 6 min.

Hearts, candy, and flowers. Romantic dinners and weekend getaways. For some Valentine’s Day is a special day to celebrate a special loved one, and shower that person with gifts and affection. For others, it is seen as a commercialized occasion designed to generate sales of greeting cards. For others still, Valentine’s Day is nothing more than a day of gratuitous sexual indulgence.

With these competing ideas, how should Christians approach Valentine’s Day? Should we celebrate at all, and if so, how?

Christians are free to celebrate Valentine’s Day. But as with any celebration, we must be mindful that we do not dishonor God with our choices and our behavior.

The Origins of Valentine’s Day

Our modern Valentine’s Day customs of sending cards and flowers, and treating our loved ones to candy and dinner had very different beginnings. In fact, most of the modern aspects of Valentine’s Day emerged in the 19th century. Yet, the holiday dates back to the late 5th century. So where did it begin, and how did we get to where we are today?

Who was Saint Valentine?

Several prominent figures named Valentine are found throughout church history. Some, such as Valentine of Terni (3rd century), Valentine of Passau (5th century), and Saint Fructus Valentine (8th century), are documented martyrs listed in the official Roman Martyrology of the Catholic Church.

The Valentine whose martyrdom led to our modern celebration was Saint Valentine of Rome, who lived in the 3rd century. Valentine was a priest in the Roman Empire during a time of Christian persecution. Valentine eventually caught the attention of Emperor Claudius II (268-270), who had him imprisoned and subsequently executed in 269.

Why Celebrate Saint Valentine?

Differing traditions have emerged regarding the actions of Saint Valentine that cause him to be associated with a celebration of romantic love. Apart from ministering to persecuted Christians, Valentine is purported to have performed secret weddings in defiance of an Imperial decree.

Believing that single men, unburdened by family obligations and distractions, made the most effective soldiers, Emperor Claudius forbid his soldiers from marrying. Valentine’s continuing performance of marriage ceremonies for Roman soldiers placed him in violation of Roman law and landed him in prison.

The tradition continues that while Valentine was imprisoned, he fell in love with the jailer’s daughter. Some versions suggest that she was blind until Valentine miraculously restored her sight. But most versions of Valentine’s story agree that he sent affectionate letters to the jailer’s daughter, which he signed “From Your Valentine.”

The Development of Valentine’s Day

The Feast of Saint Valentine was first added to the Roman Catholic calendar in 496 and is still recognized in certain regions of the Catholic Church, as well as the Anglican and Lutheran churches. The Eastern Orthodox Church also honors Saint Valentine, but on June 6, which coincides with the martyrdom of Valentine of Terni.

In the 14th century, the celebration of Valentine grew beyond a saintly feast on the church calendar into the celebration of romantic love that we know today. As medieval literature, which developed around tales of chivalry and courtship, grew in popularity, romantic love became more celebrated among the noble classes.

First celebrations

The first association between courtship celebrations and Valentine’s Day is believed to be Chaucer’s poem, Parliament of Fowls (14th century). Parliament makes reference to birds coming to choose their mates on Saint Valentine’s Day. Read allegorically, this line is understood as an illustration of courtship among the nobility.

Inspired by the literature of the day and Saint Valentine’s penchant for writing love letters, it became commonplace in the middle ages for the nobility to recognize their beloved with handwritten cards and letters. As literacy (and access to paper) spread, the Saint Valentine’s Day tradition spread with it.


The holiday took a commercial turn during the early days of the Industrial Revolution when entrepreneurs began mass-producing greeting cards and boxed chocolate. In 1847, Esther Howland produced the first commercially available Valentine’s Day cards, which she sold in her father’s Massachusetts book and stationery store. And just a couple of decades later, in 1868, Cadbury produced the first heart-shaped chocolates specifically packaged and marketed as Valentine’s Day gifts.

The Concerns for Christians

Neither the life of Saint Valentine nor the history of Valentine’s Day seems to conflict with Christian beliefs and practices. But there are two reasons that are frequently cited in some Christian communities as causes to forego this celebration, which we will examine below.

Valentine’s Day or Lupercalia?

In ancient Rome, the pagan celebration of Lupercalia took place each year on February 15. Lupercalia was a fertility festival, and as such included nudity, ritual sex acts, and similar activities typically associated with fertility rites.

Lupercalia was officially discontinued throughout the Roman Empire in 391 with the banning of all non-Christians festivals. However, some communities within the empire continued the celebration.

Some have suggested that Saint Valentine’s Day was later added to the calendar on February 14 as a means of appropriating the pagan festival and assimilating its practitioners into Christian practices.

The trouble with this theory is that the feast of Saint Valentine was declared almost 900 years prior to the day’s association with romantic love. While appropriation of pagan festivals was not unheard of in the earlies centuries of Christendom, the historical evidence does not support the establishment of Valentine’s Day for this purpose.

Valentine’s Day and Sexual Immorality

The other reason some Christian traditions discourage the celebration of Valentine’s Day is that the day has become associated with sexual promiscuity. One popular American sitcom has referred to Valentine’s Day as “National Sex Day,” which reflects a perception that is common in western culture.

But if we take a broader look at human sexuality within Western culture, we can conclude that promiscuity and hedonistic views of sexuality are prevalent across a variety of media and presented throughout the year. Valentine’s Day is not an anomalous day of indulgence that stands out amidst an otherwise sexually restrained society.

How a society celebrates Valentine’s Day, then is generally a product of the worldview and the morality that are dominant within the culture of that society. The notion that Valentine’s Day is “National Sex Day,” is merely a reflection of attitudes that are already common.

The Christian Response

 “One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” – Romans 14:5-6

If you are married, engaged, or dating with marriage as your objective, it is certainly appropriate to express your love and affection for your beloved on Valentine’s Day. As Christians, we should do this regularly, and not just once each year. But planning a special occasion to celebrate a romantic bond is certainly a component that can benefit a romantic relationship.

For unmarried Christians who are dating, the temptation to indulge in sexual activity might be too great to resist. And if that is the case, perhaps it is wise to make the choice to celebrate another way (such as dinner with a group of couples) or to not acknowledge Valentine’s Day at all.

As Christians, we must be mindful that Valentine’s Day does not give us a license to forego God-honoring use of our sexuality. To state it broadly, God’s expectation is that we maintain sexual fidelity in marriage and celibacy in singleness. We don’t get a free pass to step beyond these boundaries on Valentine’s Day (or any other day).

As noted at the onset, Christians are free to celebrate Valentine’s Day if we so choose. But as with all matters of conscience, we are wise to discern why we are celebrating and be mindful of how we celebrate.