So we spend so much time focused on the traditional "December Dilemma" that we often forget the many holidays that we as Jews in America encounter, but aren't ours. Halloween. Valentine’s Day. Thanksgiving. Fourth of July. Living as a Jew in America means existing with a constant dual tension. While some of these holidays may have been Americanized to a point where their original meanings aren’t even recognizable, there are implications for observing them as Jews. As the secular calendar brings us to each of these, I will look at some of the holiday origins and will offer ways to encounter them Jewishly and also point out how Jews observe similar celebrations.
The first interpretation has The Feast of Lubercus celebration originating as a pagan tradition in the third century. During this time hordes of hungry wolves roamed outside of Rome where shepherds kept their flocks. The God Lupercus, was said to watch over the shepherds and their flocks and keep them from the wolves. Every February the Romans celebrated a feast called Lupercalia to honor Lupercus so that no harm would come to the shepherds and their flocks. Also during Lupercalia, but in honor of the goddess Juno Februata, the names of young women were put into a box and names were drawn by lot. The boys and girls who were matched would be considered partners for the year, which began in March. This celebration continued long after wolves were a problem to Rome.
Valentines Day started in the time of the Roman Empire. Under the rule of Emperor Claudius II - Rome was involved in many bloody and unpopular military campaigns. Claudius the Cruel, as he was known at the time, was having a difficult time getting soldiers to join his military leagues. He believed that the reason was that roman men did not want to leave their loves or families. As a result, Claudius cancelled all marriages and engagements in Rome.
This was when a Christian priest named Valentine came to defend love in the empire. Valentine began to secretly marry couples despite the emperors orders. When Emperor Claudius was informed of these ceremonies Valentine was sent to prison where he remained until his death on February 14 in the year 270.
It wasn't until a few hundred years later when Valentine's Day began to develop as we know it. At the time Christianity was beginning to take control of Europe.
As part of this effort the Church sought to do away with pagan holidays. Valentine's Day came to replace a mid-February fertility festival called Lupercalia. In honor of his sacrifice for love Valentine was made a saint and Lupercalia renamed in his honor.