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Valentine's Day Around the World

11 February, 2011 12:34  Erin Erin

Love in multiple languages © Yahia LOUKKAL - FotoliaThough St. Valentine has been celebrated since he got his own day in 500 AD, Valentines Day has long held a bad rap. Omitted from the Roman calendar in 1969 by Pope Paul VI, the holiday we see today has little to do with the Christian martyr who gave it his name.

Flowers, paper hearts, candy and cupids make up the modern Valentine's Day festivities. Many people feel that February 14th has devolved into little more than a gimmick to sell material goods and has absolutely nothing to do with romance.

But what does the holiday look like around the world? Are there places where its Christian roots are more pronounced? Does the modern focus on love and romance make people more loving and romantic - if for just a day?


"Love doesn't make the world go round. Love is what makes the ride worthwhile."
Franklin P. Jones



The USA has never shied away from commercialism and while the focus is on love, a lot of chocolates and roses are sold on February 14th. Shops are decked out in red and pink, hearts adorn everything and seasonal candies like the "sweetheart" are everywhere.

Romantic relationships are celebrated as well as platonic relationships between students and teachers, co-workers and even the post man may get a card. Parties are arranged for single people to band together against the onslaught of lovey-dovey overload. Restaurants also experience a boost as the traditional Valentine's entails a romantic, and usually expensive, night out. Children are also included in the revelry. Parties at the school offer sugary treats in exchange for homemade cards.


Much like their neighbors to the south, Canadians jump on the Valentines Day bandwagon. Balls and parties are held across the vast nation and roses, chocolates, candies and cards are purchased in mass.

Children are again included. For primary students, class time is set aside for card making and decorating of personal post boxes. Children deliver the cards to their classmates and teachers and everyone gets to open their cards. To make sure no one is left out, cards are usually given to every student.


Similar to the Yanks, UK celebrations consist of sending cards, flowers, chocolates and other sentimental gifts. However, regions of the UK have unique traditions. Valentine buns with caraway seeds, plums or raisins. In Norfolk, "Jack Valentine" is said to knock on houses's back doors and leave sweets and presents for children. Despite the sweet treats, he often scares the children he is said to visit!

It was once believed that unmarried girls should wake up before sunrise on Valentine's Day and that the first man they saw was to be their husband. William Shakespeare wrote about this in Hamlet as Ophelia sings:

"Good morrow! 'Tis St. Valentine's Day
All in the morning betime,
And I a maid at your window,
To be your valentine!"

The art of romantic writing is maintained by the many writers who compose sonnets and verses to be published in the many tabloids and magazines in the days leading up to the holiday.

In Wales, many people celebrate Dydd Santes Dwynwen, or St. Dwynwen's Day. This is actually held on January 25.


Initially a Spring Festival in Italy, Valentines Day has become somewhat popular in Italy. Couples go out for dinners, gifts are exchanged, and love is in the air. A decadent sweet baci perugina - chocolate-covered hazelnuts - is put within a small slip of paper with a romantic poetic quote in four languages and given out.

There is an older tradition in the city of Turin where betrothed couples chose this day to announce their engagement. The celebration of love, il giorno della festa degli innamorati is an original Italian festival between family members and friends where gifts are not exchanged.


France's traditionally Catholic society has grudgingly adapted a form of the pagan celebration of Valentine's Day. Known as Saint-Valentin, valentine cards or cartes d'amitié may be given out on this day. Charles, Duke of Orleans, is credited with writing the first Valentine's Day card when captured at the Battle of Agincourt in 1415. He wrote it to his while imprisoned in the Tower of London.

At one time, the French participated in an unusual practice called loterie d'amour meaning "drawing for love". Unmarried people would call from the windows of facing houses until paired off. Those left till the end or not paired were often bitter about the process and eventually it was officially banned.


Better known as San Valentin, Valentines is celebrated similar to most other Western nations. Catalonia, as in many things, is different. Here Valentines Day is not remarkable, but the similar La Diada de Sant Jordi (Saint George's Day) is celebrated by gift and book giving.


A lover's card is a popular gift among the Danes. Traditionally, they were transparent cards which reflected the picture of a lover presenting his beloved a gift when held in front of light. Today, any card is called a Lover's Card.

Unlike most other flower givers on this day, white flowers or "snowdrops" are given more than red in Denmark. Danes also engage in a bit of mystery with their tradition of Gaekkebrev. Love poems and funny notes are penned and sent anonymously. The receiver is supposed to guess the name of the sender. If she is able to guess the right name, then she is rewarded.


The Dia dos Namorado (Day of the Enamored or Boyfriends's/Girlfriend's Day) is actually celebrated on June 12. Couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards and flower bouquets just as other countries do on Valentines Day. Its date was chosen for its proximity to Festa junina (Saint Anthony's day) who is the marriage saint. On that date, single women perform rituals, called simpatias, to find a good husband or boyfriend.


Japan has grabbed onto Valentines Day full force, with their own unique twists. The holiday is a chocolate popularity contest. Women usually give chocolates to their male co-workers, known as giri-choko. Unpopular co-workers are reflected by getting only the obligatory amount of chocolate. Honmei-choko is given out to loved ones. Japanese chocolate companies make half their annual sales during this time of the year.

In the 1980s, a counter campaign was launched. March 14th is a reply day where men are expected to return the favor. It is called "White Day" as white candies are offered. Recently, other gifts have also become acceptable. The value is expected to be at least two or three times more valuable than the gifts received in Valentine's Day.

South KoreaSouth Korea

Similar to Japan's festivities, women give chocolate to men on February 14 and men give candy to women on March 14. On April 14, another color comes into play- black. Black Day is for those who did not receive anything on the two previous holidays and they eat away their loneliness by feasting on black noodles (jajangmyeon) and mourning their single life. Actually, every 14th commemorates a holiday in Korea, but few are as actively participated in as in flirty February, responsive March, and sorrowful April.


Qi Xi (in pinyin) is held on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar, also called the "Festival of the Double Sevens" or the "Seven Sister's Festival". It symbolizes a fabled day on which the cow herder and weaving maid are allowed to be together. The story goes that there once lived an orphaned poor boy called Niu Lang, and he owned an old ox. The ox was actually an immortal who was punished and sent back to earth as an ox. The ox liked the humble cow herder and told him "if you want to get married, go to the river and your wish will come true."

At the river, the boy saw seven beautiful daughters of the Emperor. Niu Lang was captivated with the youngest daughter, Zhi Nu, and took away her fairy clothes that she needed to fly back to the heaven. He promised to return her clothes if she promised to marry him. The girl agreed and they lived happily until the Emperor wanted his daughter back. The milky way was created to separate the cow herder on earth and his wife in heaven. However, the two were so in love and missed each other so much that they permitted to meet once a year, on the 7th day of 7th lunar month.

To celebrate this union of love, couples visit the Temple of Matchmaker and pray for their love and happiness. Singles also visit the temple and ask to find their true love. People also decorate ox's horns with flowers.


Valentine's Day has been catching on India, much to the chagrin of many of it's spiritual leaders. Hindu and Islamic traditionalists resist the "cultural contamination from the West" and encourage their followers to shun these celebrations.

Despite their efforts, many people still engage in exchanging gifts, candy, and love letters.


Valentine's Day is tied to wealth in Australia as it was on February 14th that the Ballarat Mines were discovered. Fame and money had finally come to the miners and they showered wealth upon their mates. Colored shells, perfumed flowers, doves, and satin cushions were traditionally given, and these gifts still have a specific meaning to many Australians.

Perhaps it is that same sentiment that leads Australian men to be the force behind modern days Valentine's Day gifts and cards.

South AfricaSouth Africa

Valentine's Day in is celebrated with great passion as married couples try to impress their partners and singles woo new loves. The multi-culture nature of the country is reflected in the many different festivals that are held leading up to February 14th. Shops and houses are beautifully adorned with flowers and traditional African style decorations. Even an old Roman tradition found new life here. For Lupercalia, young girls pin their lovers name on their sleeves.


What traditions do you engage in for Valentine's Day? Do you celebrate differently abroad?


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