Valentine's Day is celebrated around the world. While February 14th marks a day of candy, flowers, greeting cards and romantic dinners in the UK, other parts of the world have their own unique ways to celebrate this romantic annual event.
The legend of St. Valentine is shrouded in mystery. One legend says Valentine was a priest who served during the third century in Rome. When Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers than those with families, he outlawed marriage. Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret, causing Claudius to order he be put to death.
It is also told that Valentine fell in love while imprisoned. Before his death, he is said to have written his lover a letter and signed it “From your Valentine.”
Regardless of its origins, Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world. Here's how a few do it...
Although Valentine's Day is a relatively new holiday in Denmark (celebrated since the early 1990’s), the country has embraced 14th February with a Danish twist. Rather than roses, friends and sweethearts exchange pressed white flowers called snowdrops.
Men also give women gaekkebrev, a "joking letter" consisting of a funny poem or rhyme 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.
You’ll be surprised to find pigs aplenty on the day for romance since the animal is a symbol of luck and lust. Couples will give each other pig figurines and pictures, and even chocolate pigs.
Women in South Korea give gifts to men on Valentine’s Day while men celebrate White Day a month later. And for those who don't have much to celebrate on either Valentine's Day or White Day, there is a third holiday: Black Day. Celebrated on 14th April, single friends gather to eat noodles and celebrate being single. The name comes from the noodle dish, which includes white noodles in a black sauce.
Wales celebrate Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, on 25th January. One traditional romantic Welsh gift is a love spoon. As early as the 17th century, Welsh men carved intricate wooden spoons as a token of affection for the women they loved. Patterns and symbols were carved into these love spoons, each signifying a different meaning. A few examples include horseshoes, which stand for good luck; wheels, symbolising support; and keys - the keys to a man's heart.
In Norfolk, Jack Valentine acts as a Santa of sorts for Valentine's Day. Children anxiously wait to hear Jack Valentine knock at their doors, and although they don't catch a glimpse of Old Father Valentine, children enjoy the candies and small gifts left on their porches.
The United Kingdom also started the tradition of giving roses on Valentine’s Day. The flower is traditionally seen as the favourite of Venus, the Roman goddess of love.
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 cowherd, 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 only 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.
Originally, Italians celebrated Valentine's Day as the Spring Festival. The young and amorous gathered outside in gardens and such to enjoy poetry readings and music before taking a stroll with their beloved.
Today, Italians celebrate Valentine's Day with gift giving between lovers and romantic dinners. One of the most popular Valentine's Day gifts in Italy is Baci Perugina, which are small, chocolate-covered hazelnuts wrapped with a romantic quote printed in four languages. Baci’ means "kiss" in Italian so they are exchanging kisses.
Finland and Estonia
On 14th February Finland and Estonia celebrate Ystävänpäivä which translates into "Friend’s Day", a day for honouring both friends and significant others. Cards and gifts are still given out, and can be for anyone from a best friend to a neighbour. Additionally, Estonia has an interesting tradition for single people—they can take a ride on the Love Bus in hopes of meeting someone special.
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 14th February. 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.
In Brazil they celebrate Dia dos Namorados, or "Lovers' Day," on 12th June. Gift giving isn't limited to couples 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 honours the patron saint of marriage. On this day, single women perform rituals called 'simpatias' in hopes that St. Anthony will bring them a husband.
It is customary for women in South Africa to wear their heart on their sleeve on 14th February; 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.
In Slovenia, 14th February is considered a prime day for working in the fields as St. Valentine is one of the patron saints of spring. Slovenians typically celebrate romance a month later, on St. Gregory’s Day, which falls on 12th March.