Celebrating Love Festivals in Christianity
St. Valentine's Day
It is hard to find a single official love festival in Christian faith, in spite of the attention people in the West lavish on St. Valentine’s Day. Similarly to many holidays in the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, the feast of St. Valentine, probably the Roman priest who died in 269 CE, was a effort to distill non-Christian behaviors and inclinations into a more devout form.
A mid-February date was likely to have been picked to supplant a fertility celebration for the Roman goddess Februato Juno wherein celebrants drew names for courtship. The pagan festivals of Lughnase and Lupercalia might have also been the target of this Christianized event. On the day of Lughnasa, young men held the hands of young women whom they did not know through a stone wall. This handfasting ritual then led to a 1-year trial period for marriage or a simply engagement for the remainder of the holiday.
Celebration of Christian Love at Christmas
Other amorously self-indulgent practices were drawn under tighter religious scrutiny when the Roman festival date of Saturnalia was chosen as the date for the celebration of the feast in honor of the birth of Christ, Christmas, which, however, still had to vie with the unofficial Feast of Fools - for which St. Francis of Assisi served as the dominus festi or “lord of the revels” before his conversion to Christian faith.
The feasts of a number of other holy people including St. Dorothy of Caesarea and St. Dwynn of Wales are connected with love but do not garner similar attention as that of St. Valentine's Day.
Other Occasions to Celebrate Christian Love
Beside the above mentioned general festivals celebrating love, a Christian holiday of matrimony in a wealthy family during the Middle Ages was ground enough for a communal feast. This was a period where marriage was not necessarily accompanied by love. Other festivities of the rich, such as jousting tournaments for the praise and affection of the lady of the house, or attendance at a royal court, might also be suitable options.
Baldassare Castiglione, author of The Courtier, wrote that incomplete love for a committed woman could bring the soul to heavenly love through the path of reason. The many more degenerate features of festivities devoted to love in Christianity in the West were eliminated when Martin Luther broke away from the Roman Catholic Church, claiming the abolition of all feast days, or at least moving them to Sundays or a weekday morning mass. In the Catholic Church’s response to Luther, the Council of Trent retained feast days with greater piety was expected from the celebrants.
Although the Feast of St. Valentine originated from religious circles, today it receives more attention in secular life. Martial love focuses on marriage and on love of God and it is celebrated in one way or another in most church services and sacraments. There are movements to preserve the commitment to married love in Christian churches in the form of seminars, mass meetings, or retreats.