Valentine’s Day Traditions Around the World
Tuesday, 15 February 2022
Every culture has their unique way of celebrating Valentine’s Day – a day loved and hated by many. Vicki explores some sweet and strange Valentine's customs from across the globe.
Valentine’s Day itself has unclear origins but some people say it came from Rome, and today it is one of the most commercialised days of the year.
The story of Valentine’s Day goes that Emperor Claudius II executed two men on 14 February, although different years, who were both called Valentine. According to Roman legend, one of these men healed his guard’s daughter’s blindness and left a note signed, ‘From your Valentine’.
While in the UK, we may know Valentine’s Day as the day that couples go out for dinner and exchange cards and gifts, each country has their own way of marking the special day.
Japan – cryptic chocolate and white gifts
It’s traditional for women to gift men chocolates on Valentine’s Day. Giri choco is 'obligation chocolate' for friends and colleagues and honmei choco, ‘true feeling chocolate’ is for someone she has romantic feelings for. In return, on White Day, 14 March, men gift women anything ranging from white chocolates to white jewellery.
South Korea – singletons unite
As in Japan, women in South Korea give gifts to men on Valentine’s Day and the men then celebrate White Day. However, South Koreans celebrate a third day, known as Black Day. On 14 April, single friends gather to eat noodles and celebrate their singlehood. The day’s name originates from the noodles they eat that come in a black bean sauce.
Denmark – guess your secret admirer
Since the 18th century, the Danes have been sending gaekkebrev to their crushes (paper snowflakes featuring a poem) and then signing their name in dots to preserve an air of mystery. If the recipient manages to guess the sender’s identity, the sender must buy them an Easter egg.
South Africa – wear your heart on your sleeve
In South Africa, they literally wear their hearts on their sleeves and pin the name of their sweethearts to their clothes. It’s believed that the tradition came from the ancient festival of Lupercalia, where men would wear the name of their Valentine in a similar way.
Guatemala – Valentine’s for everyone
Over in Guatemala, Valentine’s Day isn’t just for romance. The focus is also on family, friends and colleagues and the day is more generally named ‘El Día del Cariño’ (The Day of Affection). There’s also an Old Love Parade in Guatemala City which celebrates the country’s senior citizens.
The Philippines – government-funded celebrations for the world to see
On Valentine’s Day in the Philippines, hundreds of couples come together to get married in public places. Often, the celebrations are government-sponsored, giving less privileged couples the opportunity to tie the knot and covering the cost of the wedding cake, flowers and even rings.
France – bonfires in the name of love
France is known as one of the most romantic countries in the world, with Paris as the city of love. To celebrate Valentine’s Day, they used to have ‘une loterie d’amour’, where hopeful singles would line up on either side of the street and call to each other until they were all paired up. The women left without a partner would then build a large bonfire and burn pictures of the men who had rejected them.
The French government later banned this bizarre practice and Valentine’s Day is now more what you’d expect in France. Lots of croissants, champagne, and chocolate!
Italy – love at first sight and Shakespearean romance
Italy used to have the tradition of young, unmarried girls waking up before dawn to spot their future husbands. Legend said that the first man they saw on Valentine’s Day would be the man they would marry. Today, this is less common and one of the more popular traditions is to exchange ‘Baci Perugina’ – small, chocolate-covered hazelnuts wrapped in a romantic quote that is printed in four different languages.
In Verona, there is a four-day festival to celebrate love with heart-shaped lanterns and a letter-writing competition to Juliet from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
Ghana – for the love of chocolate
Valentine’s Day in Ghana has been dubbed ‘National Chocolate Day’ to promote tourism and cocoa products, the backbone of their economy. They use the day to get the most out of chocolate-themed menus and exhibitions around the country.
Taiwan – communicating with flowers
Valentine’s Day in Taiwan looks a lot like Valentine’s Day in Western countries – giving flowers to your loved ones. However, in Taiwan, the colour and number of flowers carry a secret message. Red roses mean ‘you’re my one and only’ and 99 roses mean ‘I will love you forever’, while 108 roses mean ‘will you marry me?’
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Being a bilingual family (French mother and British father,) living in France I thought your article was extremely interesting . Have you research on bilingualism ? It seems that when the mother is British and the father French and they both live in France their children seem to be more bilingual than when the mother is French and the father is British . This is what we called mother tongue , isn't it ?
Such an interesting article!