The origins of Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day has its roots in an ancient Roman tradition called Lupercalia. It was held annually on February 15th, and during this festivity young men strip naked and run around gently spanking young maidens in order to boost their fertility. Lupercalia was dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of Agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus (1). These pagan rituals remained extremely popular even after Constantine declared Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. Afterwards, Lupercalia was Christianised, transforming into Saint Valentine, in the name of the saint who performed illegal marriages under the Roman Emperor Claudias II. For his digression, Saint Valentine was martyred on February 14th of year 276A.D (2), and today, sweethearts around the world commemorate Saint Valentine on this day (3).
Different traditions around the world
Traditions these days vary from country to country – although the common Western theme seems to be Valentine’s cards, chocolates, candy hearts and dinner dates, not every country resorts to these items when declaring love. Here is a list of countries and how their Valentine’s traditions vary from one another.
While Valentine’s Day celebrations in the Philippines are similar to celebrations in Western countries, one tradition has swept the country and led to thousands of couples sharing a wedding day on February 14th. Mass wedding ceremonies have gained popularity in the Philippines in recent years, leading hundreds of couples to gather at malls or other public areas around the country to get married or renew their vows en masse (4).
In countries like Pakistan, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia celebrating the day can result in severe punishment and is seen by conservative Muslims as un-Islamic.
South Korea and Japan
Japanese Valentine’s Day is about all about the men. Women give chocolates to them, and hope their favour is returned later in the year.
In South Korea, February 14th is one of 12 ‘love’ days that fall on the 14th of each month. Women give men presents and they reciprocate on ‘White Day’ a month later. If the gift isn’t returned, singles celebrate White Day by eating jajangmyeon, a dish made from white noodles and black bean sauce (5).
The equivalent to Valentine’s Day in China is Qixi, or the Seventh Night Festival, which falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month each year. According to Chinese lore, Zhinu, a heavenly king’s daughter, and Niulang, a poor cowman, fell in love, married and had twins. When Zhinu’s father learned of their marriage, he sent his queen to bring Zhinu back to the stars. Upon hearing the cries of Niulang and the children, the king allowed Zhinu and Niulang to meet once a year on Qixi.
During Qixi, young women prepare offerings of melon and other fruits to Zhinu in hopes of finding a good husband. Couples also head to temples to pray for happiness and prosperity. At night, people look to the heavens to watch as stars Vega and Altair (Zhinu and Niulang, respectively) come close during the star-crossed pair’s annual reunion (6).
India is well known as a culture filled with ancient traditions. The Hindu culture contradicts many of the western world’s ideals. Valentine’s Day celebrations are known to clash with India’s conservative religious background. It has only been in the most recent years that Valentine’s Day has become widely recognized in India.
Just like most people in the world, many men and women of India, particularly young couples, celebrate Valentine’s Day in a big way. They dress in fine clothing and show their loved one how they feel about them. Hotels and restaurants are fully booked to accommodate couples who are expressing and celebrating their love for each other. Post offices are filled with flower deliveries of flowers, packages and romantic letters (7).
Valentine’s Day, also called Saint Valentine’s Day, is a day that many Australians celebrate with someone they love. Typical Valentine’s Day activities include picnics in the park, buying gifts of chocolates, flowers or jewelry for their loved ones. It could also be a romantic boat cruise or meal at a restaurant, and lately it’s also common to share love messages via social media and radio announcements.
Some people choose Valentine’s Day as the day to propose to their partners, while others set February 14 as their wedding day. Some charities, non-government organizations, or community organizations hold special events, such as a Valentine’s Day ball, to raise funds for various causes that help others in need (8).
The EU and UK
In Europe and the UK, couples get seriously romantic on Valentine’s Day. Lovers go on dream dates and exchange gifts of flowers, chocolates and jewellery. In the evening, couples typically enjoy a nice dinner on the town or opt for a candle-lit spread at home.
Although in Europe, Valentine’s Day is a relatively new holiday in Denmark (celebrated since the early 1990s only). Rather than roses, friends and sweethearts exchange pressed white flowers called snowdrops.
Another popular Danish Valentine’s Day tradition is the exchange of “lover’s cards.” While lover’s cards were originally transparent cards which showed a picture of the card giver, on February 14th, men also give women gaekkebrev, a “joking letter” consisting of a funny poem or rhyme written on intricately cut paper and signed only with anonymous dots. If a woman who receives the gaekkebrev can correctly guess the sender, she earns herself an Easter egg later that year (9).
With a reputation as one of the most romantic destinations in the world, it’s little wonder France has long celebrated Valentine’s Day as a day for lovers.
It’s been said that the first Valentine’s Day card originated in France when Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415.
Another traditional Valentine’s Day event in France was the loterie d’amour, or “drawing for love.” Men and women would fill houses that faced one another, and then take turns calling out to one another and pairing off. Men who weren’t satisfied with their match could simply leave a woman for another, and the women left unmatched gathered afterward for a bonfire.
During the bonfire, women burned pictures of the men who wronged them and hurled swears and insults at the opposite sex. The event became so uncontrollable that the French government eventually banned the tradition all together (10).
Another European exception, in Finland, you don’t have to worry about feeling left out of the festivities if you are single because it’s all about celebrating with your friends. The day is even called ‘Friend’s Day’ or Ystävänpäivä in Finnish, not Valentine’s. The official flower is the pink rose, but mates are happy to receive gifts, cards or candy, too.
Thanks to countrywide Carnaval celebrations, most Peruvians are on holiday on February 14, which means they have extra time to plan their loved-up itinerary. Instead of exchanging roses, many opt for orchids – a flower native to the country. They even hold mass weddings to accommodate all the couples saying “I do” on the most romantic day of the year.
In Brazil, Valentine’s day isn’t celebrated in February because it usually falls on or around Brazil Carnival. Instead, Brazil celebrates ‘Dia dos Namorados’ on June 12. Brazil’s celebration honours Saint Anthony – the patron saint of matchmaking and marriages.
In addition to the usual exchanges of chocolates, flowers and cards, music festivals and performances are held throughout the country. Gift giving isn’t limited to couples, either. In Brazil, people celebrate this day of love by exchanging gifts and sharing dinner with friends and relatives, too.
The following day is Saint Anthony’s Day, which honors the patron saint of marriage. On this day, single women perform rituals called simpatias in hopes that St. Anthony will bring them a husband (11).
The United States
Lovers in the United States go all out in displaying their fondness for each other: Every year, Americans spend a sweet 18 billion dollars on candy, cards, chocolates, flowers and jewelry. Greeting cards are the most common gift, but not just for couples. Family, friends and schoolchildren also exchange cards with notes of friendship, affection and appreciation. America’s most popular Valentine’s Day candy isn’t a box of chocolates, though – it’s the little conversation hearts with messages like “Be Mine” and “Kiss Me”. Fun fact: enough candy hearts are produced in a year for everyone in the world to have one!
Like many parts of the world, South Africa celebrates Valentine’s Day with festivals, flowers and other tokens of love. It’s also customary for women in South Africa to wear their hearts on their sleeves on February 14th; women pin the names of their love interest on their shirtsleeves, an ancient Roman tradition known as Lupercalia. In some cases, this is how South African men learn of their secret admirers (12).