Valentine’s Day is celebrated the world over a day of love with great vigor and excitement. Young and old, friends and family all come together in unique celebrations across various countries. Being the second most celebrated holiday in the world after New Year Day, it was originally observed in order to celebrate the Feast Day of St. Valentine, a celebrated third century Roman saint. Over time, it has come to be associated with a celebration of romantic love across much of the Western world, its influence spreading increasingly into the Middle East and South Asia as well. Valentines Day is celebrated in different ways in different countries – here’s a look at 11 different traditions of Valentines Day across the world.
Brazil is a classic example of the immensely rich culture one can find in South America. Keeping up with its undying spirit of celebration, Brazilians celebrate a day similar to Valentine’s Day on 12th June every year – called ‘Dia dos Namorados’, the festival is a major event in the Brazilian calendar year, and is celebrated by people of all the young and old alike. The day is close to every Brazilian’s heart and is spent preparing elaborate meals and meeting friends, family and distant relatives. The Brazilian way of life has always been one filled with passion and this reflects in everything the natives do – food, dance and love. Thus, Valentine’s Day as such has a deep significance in the traditions of Brazil.
True to the Chinese tradition of having a calendar of their own which celebrates various holidays including the Chinese New Year, the Qixi Festival is what marks the Chinese Valentine’s Day. The occasion is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month, roughly around early August according to the Gregorian calendar. The Qixi Festival derives its essence from a Chinese legend – a love story between the daughter of the Queen of Heaven and a cowboy. On the Chinese Valentine’s Day, men take their partners on luxury dinners and shower roses on them. In cities such as Beijing, Fuzhou and Xi’an, couples dress up in traditional Chinese costumes according to the legend and ceremonies are held. Couples also visit temples and pray for a prosperous married life together.
While French capital might be touted as one of the most romantic cities in the world, older traditions associated with Valentine’s Day point to a very different reality. Uniquely strange customs prevailed in the older times, such as that of “drawing for” or “lottery of love” in which single persons were gathered in houses and made to call out the name of their hopeful partner through the windows. Similarly, jilted women would burn the images of their lovers in huge bonfires in the cities and the events would often turn very ugly. Eventually, the French government banned such bonfire events. In contemporary times, France celebrates Valentine’s Day very much in tandem with the Western version of the occasion – lovers gift their partner roses and gifts, and red is the color of the day. In Indre, a small village called St. Valentin has held celebrations since the 1960s.
Much like the rest of the Western world, German cities adorn red colored decorations on Valentine’s Day – shops are seen selling roses, V-Day paraphernalia including chocolates, heart shaped candies, toys and cards. But there’s a tiny little addition to the whole charm of the occasion – a pig. Little pigs are seen offering flowers to couples or lying down on chocolate hearts. These pigs symbolize luck as well as lust. Little pigs are seen on all the decorations and shown holding different things, each having a meaning of its own. A particularly common example for luck with your Valentine is represented by a few pigs holding a four leaved clover and climbing a little ladder on a heart.
The subject of Valentine’s Day has always been a rather sensitive issue in India. Various groups, particularly Hindu nationalists have vehemently opposed the celebration of Valentine’s Day, citing invasion of Western culture into the country as their prime concern. Nevertheless, the occasion is marked by a commercial holiday and the streets in cities like New Delhi and Mumbai are filled with merchants selling stuffed toys and chocolates. The celebration of the day has proved to be a money spinner for some businesses, especially that of flowers. Florists find the celebrations extremely profitable. The Indian youth, atleast in the cities has absorbed the concept of Valentine’s Day into their thought process. Overall, one sees a rather subdued version of Valentine’s Day found in the West.
Despite being an Islamic country, where the spread of Western ideals and traditions is opposed, the people of Iraq have come with Valentine’s Day traditions of their own. Some sections of Iraqi society, such as the Iraqi Kurds celebrate the day with the feast of love. A common tradition is the preservation of a red apple with cloves which is said to bring prosperity and love. Although the country’s laws are against forms of public courtship, people still manage to express their love to their partners in different ways. The people of Iraq have expressed dissent over not being able to celebrate love in the way they want to, and protests have cropped up time and again on and around February 14th in cities, including the capital of Baghdad.
Valentine’s Day is perhaps best witnessed and experienced in the Italian city of Verona, also known as the land of Romeo and Juliet. The city features in Shakespeare’s iconic play about two star-crossed lovers and this is particularly evident on February 14th when the city comes alive to celebrate the day of love. Couples from all over Italy flock to Verona, where various events are held including getting a moment with Juliet’s statue for good luck in love, writing the best letter to Juliet and tours that retrace the steps of the two lovers. Apart from the event themes on Shakespeare, the city on the whole builds an atmosphere of love and romance with gardens and vineyards that look straight out of the Renaissance, boutiques, beautifully lit restaurants and decorated cobblestone streets. If there is one place in the world you should take your partner for Valentine’s Day, it definitely is Verona.
Symbolizing the cosmopolitan culture of Singapore, Valentine’s Day celebrations in the country are mix of old traditions and modern twists. The day coincides with celebrations of the Chinese New Year. On the 15th day of the festivities, unmarried women gather at night on the banks of the Singapore River to throw Mandarin oranges into it, hoping to find their soulmates. The day is celebrated with great fan-fare, with couples as well as singles enjoying themselves, indulging in food and drink with family and friends. Valentine’s Day is also the time when a lot many couples tie the knot in Singapore, the common belief being that it will bring prosperity and health to the couple. Yet another traditional way of expressing love is through flowers and cards. Different flowers symbolize different relationships, and messages on cards are used to express the feelings of love and affection.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated of February 14th every year in South Korea, but along with another unique tradition – that of celebrating the 14th day of every month as a day of love, signifying different traditions that are attached to each holiday. The holiday on the 14th of February, which is celebrated as Valentine’s Day with the rest of the world, is actually meant only for women. On this day, South Korean women give their male counterparts chocolate, and the following month i.e. on March 14, it’s the man’s turn to give his female counterpart a non-chocolate candy. March 14 is also called White Day, while the following month, April 14 is called Black Day. The Black Day is a tradition specifically for singles to mourn their singlehood. On April 14, single men and women are supposed eat black colored noodles, called jajangmyeon noodles. What sets South Korean tradition of women giving chocolate apart from other Eastern Asian countries is that in South Korea, the amount of chocolate given is much more.
Thailand witnesses a surge in adventure sport and tourism around Valentine’s Day, owing to the adventure loving nature of Thai men and women. Everything from underwater weddings to sky diving is popular, with couples taking flight in romance, quite literally. There is of course something for everyone. Yet another tradition in Thai culture involves women traveling to the Trimurti shrine and laying roses, lighting candles and burning incense sticks at the Hindu deity’s feet. The ritual is done in order to get a good husband. Valentine’s Day also witnesses a rise in the number of marriages that take place, both on and off the ground. Superstition and tradition together prompt couples to register for a marriage license around this time. A lot of marriages take place in a place called The Village of Love which is situated in Bangkok.
United States, United Kingdom and Australia
Valentine’s traditions in the United States and Australia are quite similar – the day is celebrated with great fanfare and enthusiasm, and people especially the youth spend a fair share of money on giving gifts and cards to their loved ones. The day is not observed as a public holiday and business runs as usual, however the streets and offices are visibly decorated with romantic confectionery and the atmosphere is extremely lively. One can find wine, champagne, candy boxes, chocolates and other romantic gifts being sold everywhere. The trend is very similar in the United Kingdom – heart shaped candies, gifts and valentine’s cards signify love and affection. However, in some parts of the UK a few old traditions still prevail. One of the traditions finds mention even in Shakespeare’s play Hamlet as well – the tradition goes that the first man a woman saw on Valentine’s Day would be one she would marry. Womenfolk would wake up a few hours before sunrise on the day and wait at their balconies for the man to pass. Such traditions are now mostly part of folklore in Britain, but some communities continue to believe in them even today.