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February 14, Valentine’s Day, the day of love. Some celebrate it, some ignore it and some find unique ways to mark the day.
I enjoyed learning about holiday traditions from around the world, for Christmas and New Year’s. Is Valentine’s Day a global holiday? I wanted to know. It turns out, it is. Some countries celebrate in ways similar to the US. And others put their own unique spin on the day.
Check out these Valentine’s Day traditions from around the world. You might want to change things up this year!
The Origins of Valentine’s Day
There are several stories about the origination of Valentine’s Day. The Catholic Church recognizes three saints named Valentine, all of whom were martyred. One story suggests Valentine died as a result of continuing to marry young couples, after Roman Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage. He thought single men made better soldiers.
Another tale suggests Valentine was killed for helping imprisoned Christians escape. And the third says that while in prison himself, Valentine sent the first “valentine” greeting to a young woman he loved. He allegedly signed the letter “from your Valentine”, an expression still used today.
It’s also possible that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in mid February to “christianize” the pagan holiday, Lupercalia. This fertility festival is connected to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture. Lupercalia became outlawed by the end of the 5th century. Pope Gelasius officially declared February 14 Valentine’s Day. During the middle ages, some countries commonly believed that birds began mating on that day, which created the idea that Valentine’s Day should be a romantic day.
Written valentines appeared after 1400. The oldest known valentine is a poem written by Charles, Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415.
Valentine’s Day Traditions from Around the World
Looking for fun or unusual ways to celebrate the day of love? Check out these traditions.
Ahhh, if a country of love exists, it must be France. Paris, after all, is called the “city of love”. Valentine’s Day is celebrated on February 14, as it is in the US. However, in France the holiday is much less commercialized. The major difference is that Valentine’s Day in France is for adult lovers only. It’s not a time for children to make cute heart crafts and hand out valentines at school.
Parents don’t give gifts to their children on that day either. Romantic couples express their love for each other with small gifts, flowers or dinners out, but rarely with cards. The most popular way for the French to celebrate the day of love is with a romantic weekend away.
In the Philippines, many young couples marry on Valentine’s Day, during a government sponsored event. Besides these celebratory mass weddings, many married couples choose to renew their wedding vows on that day as well.
In this country, the 14th of EVERY month is a day of love. Besides Valentine’s Day on February 14, there’s Day of Roses on May 14, Day of Kisses in June and Day of Hugs in December. There’s even a day for single people on April 14. They get together to eat black noodles.
For Valentine’s Day, only the women give gifts, typically chocolates, to their beloveds. A month later, on March 14, the men reciprocate with gifts worth threes times the value of the gift they received on Valentine’s Day.
In Ghana, February 14 is National Chocolate Day. The government launched the holiday in 2007, to increase tourism. Ghana is one of the top producers of cocoa. On Valentine’s Day couples attend performances and musical events and visit restaurants that offer special themed menus for the day.
The Welsh celebrate Valentine’s Day on January 25. Called the Day of San Dwynwen, lovers exchange beautifully handcrafted wooden spoons called love spoons. The spoons were originally carved to express a man’s intentions toward a young lady. Giving her the spoon announced his desire to court her.
The tradition began in the 16th century and continues today as a way to commemorate special events. Dwynwen is the Welsh saint of lovers, making her the equivalent of Saint Valentine.
Although celebrating Valentine’s Day in Denmark is a fairly new tradition, they do so beautifully. Friends and lovers exchange handmade cards, cut into shapes. Each card includes pressed snowdrop flowers.
They may also exchange fun “joke letters”, so called due to the lack of a signature on the note. Instead, the sender adds one dot for each letter of his or her name. If the recipient correctly guesses the identity of the card giver, that person receives a candy Easter egg on Easter Sunday. If the recipient does not guess the name, the sender receives the egg.
The Romanians combine romantic and unusual celebrations for Valentine’s Day, celebrated on February 24. Many young couples get engaged on this day. The couples go into the forests to collect colorful spring flowers pushing up through the snow, to give to each other. They also wash their faces with the snow, as a wish for good luck.
In Estonia, February 14 is Friendship Day. Call Sobrapaev, this festival includes everyone, from couples to friends to family members. Everyone exchanges gifts and celebrates love.
Similar to South Korea, the Japanese women give the men in their lives chocolates on Valentine’s Day. However, not all chocolates are equal! “Giri-choco” is a ready made chocolate gifted to friends and family. Giri means obligation so these chocolates are an obligatory gift to show affection but not romantic love.
“Honmei-choco”, a more expensive or homemade chocolate, goes to romantic partners.
And on March 14, men return the sentiment with chocolates given to those who gifted them candy on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is becoming more popular among young people in Czech Republic. On May 1, couples go on pilgrimage to the statue of poet Karol Hynek Macha. Then they gather beneath cherry trees and kiss for good luck.
In Slovenia, Saint Valentine is a patron saint of spring. They believe that on February 14, plants start to regenerate, marking the first day of working in the fields, for the new year. They also believe that birds propose to each other on this special day. One must walk barefoot through the frozen fields to sneak up on the birds, to witness the proposals.
In South Africa, Valentine’s Day celebrations include festivals, flowers and small tokens of love. Plus, women wear hearts on their sleeves on February 14. The pinned paper heart on a woman’s sleeve contains the printed name of her love interest. The tradition originated during the Roman pagan holiday, Lupercalia. In many cases, this is how men learn about their admirers.
Celebrating Valentine’s Day
I love discovering new traditions and learning more about cultures in other countries. My own Valentine Day’s tradition most closely matches Estonia. I enjoy giving small gifts or candy to my children and grandchildren.
It’s a day for showing love, care and affection to everyone and to oneself.
One year, I bought a dozen white roses and drove around town, handing them out to people dining alone or working during the holiday. Their smiles made my day.
How do you celebrate Valentine’s Day? Did you find a new tradition to incorporate this year?
Valentine’s Day finds from Amazon:
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