15 Valentine’s Traditions from Around the World
There are so many countries around the world that celebrate Valentine’s Day or have similar ‘love’ celebrations. However, many places have very unique traditions. Some countries only celebrate romantic love and some celebrate friendship. Gift-giving traditions differ and so do the festivities. From walking barefoot on frozen ground to gifting love spoons, here are 15 unique Valentine’s traditions from around the world.
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Table of Contents
Who was Saint Valentine, What is Lupercalia & How did Valentine’s Day Start?
Saint Valentine was a Roman priest, physician, and martyr. Legend has it that he was the Bishop of Terni in Umbria, Italy. Apparently he once signed a letter by saying ‘From Your Valentine’ to a family member of someone whom he had supposedly healed from blindness. Saint Valentine was arrested and later killed for preaching Christianity as well as for marrying Christian couples. Some narratives suggest that he also married couples so that the husbands would not have to go to war. Disputes have been made over the date of his death but it was likely sometime between 269 and 280 AD. February 14th was originally set aside as the day to remember Saint Valentine.
Lupercalia is a Roman festival that also takes place in February. Lupercalia marks the beginning of spring. It was also known as a Festival of Fertility. For these reasons, February 14th slowly morphed into a time to celebrate love and romance starting in about the 14th century.
Chocolates and Date Nights in Canada and the USA
Growing up in Canada, I always thought of Valentines Day as a romantic holiday where lovers shared chocolates. However, as a child, we always gave Valentines cards and candies to everyone in our classes in elementary school. So, there was a friendship aspect to it, even though I felt that it was more for children as I grew up. Typically in Canada and the USA people give each other cards, flowers, and chocolates with the main message on them often saying ‘Be Mine’ or ‘Be My Valentine’. Date nights often include going out to see movies, or out for dinner. The colors red and pink are also big and schools and businesses will often decorate with teddy bears and big hearts.
El Día de Amor y Amistad in Mexico and Latin America
El Día de Amor y Amistad translates to ‘The Day of Love and Friendship’. In Mexico and other countries in Central and South America, Valentine’s Day is often thought of as a day to celebrate more than just romantic love. Personally I love that this title gives everyone a reason to celebrate regardless of their relationship status.
Angelito or Amigo Secreto in El Salvador and the Domincan Republic
In El Salvador and the Domincan Republic, there’s a Valentine’s tradition called ‘Angelito’ or ‘Amigo Secreto’. This means ‘Little Angel’ or ‘Secret Friend’. Similarly to how some people give ‘Secret Santa’ gifts at Christmas time, children often give secret gifts to others during Valentines.
Gifting Orchids in Peru
Since Carnaval also takes place at the same time, February 14th is actually a public holiday in Peru. Aside from big weddings and festival activities happening throughout the country, flowers are also gifted. In Peru, people exchange orchids rather than roses. Aside from their beauty, this is also because orchids are native to Peru.
Sweetness Week in Argentina
In Argentina, love is celebrated for a full week in July, rather than just one day in February. The week is often called ‘Sweetness Week. It started in 1989 after a brand called Arcor released an advertising campaign titled, ‘A candy for a kiss’. The campaign, which was started to increase candy sales, focused first on Arcor’s candy, ‘Bon o Bon’. These days, all kinds of candies are exchanged both between lovers and friends.
The Guatemalan Old Love Parade
On February 14th senior citizens get ready for a parade in Guatemala. While the country celebrates El Día de Amor y Amistad just like other Latin American countries, they also have an ‘Old Love Parade’. During this parade, seniors dress up in bright-colored, traditional Mayan clothing. The idea of the parade is to show that love can be found and celebrated at any age and it doesn’t need to be romantic.
Lupercalia in South Africa
In South Africa, Lupercalia is celebrated on February 14. In South Africa, Lupercalia is a tradition where people pin the names of their love interests or loved ones on their sleeves. As you can imagine, the quote ‘to where one’s heart on one’s sleeve’ applies quite literally to this tradition. This quote dates back to Shakespeare’s, Othello, which was recorded in 1600. Back then knights would sometimes pin the handkerchiefs of their lovers to their uniforms as a way of publicly declaring their love for them.
Gifting Books in Catalonia
On April 23, also known as St. George’s Day or La Diada de Sant Jordi, gifts are exchanged. The main gifts are roses and books. There’s even a saying that goes, ‘A rose for love and a book forever’. People sell and buy books along the streets of Catalonia. Authors sometimes even sign books during the festivities.
Couples Gifts and Matching Clothes in Vietnam
Aside from chocolates, red roses, and giant teddy bears, a different kind of gift is also exchanged in Vietnam. Couples’ gifts, often consisting of matching items are often exchanged. It can be anything from matching phone cases to matching hats or shoes. In fact, some couples wear full matching outfits that they design for each other. Designs will even sometimes include the dates the couple met or the couple’s names.
Valentines Day, White Day, and Black Day in South Korea
There are multiple days to celebrate love in Korea. February 14th is Valentine’s Day and traditionally, only women give gifts on this day. Typically women give chocolate to the people that they’re interested in or dating on Valentine’s Day. Then on March 14th, also known as ‘White Day’, their recipients return the favor but traditionally with white chocolates. On April 14th, singles who did not receive gifts on Valentine’s or White Day, meet up and eat black noodles together. April 14 is also called ‘Black Day for this reason.
Mass Weddings in the Philippines
In the Philippines, celebrating Valentine’s Day can sometimes involve mass weddings! An added benefit to this tradition is that the weddings are often much more affordable. Some places are even known to provide couples with free rings, cake, and more for their special day. While certain venues will marry 50 couples at a time, some places marry people by the thousands. Now that’s a big wedding!
Friends Day in Finland and Estonia
In Finland and Estonia, February 14th is a celebration of platonic relationships. While some may also celebrate romantic love, the day is mainly set aside to celebrate friendships. People exchange gifts and cards and celebrate by going ice skating or sledding.
Love Spoons in Wales
Instead of giving gifts like chocolate, the Welsh sometimes gift spoons. The wooden spoon handles are carved with intricate designs of hearts and other delicate shapes. Love spoons are gifted both on February 14th for Valentine’s Day and on January 25th for St Dwynwen’s Day. The oldest Welsh love spoon apparently dates all the back to 1667!
Joke Letters in Denmark and Norway
In Denmark and Norway, a kind of game is played involving the exchange of joke letters, or ‘gaekkebrev’. First, someone will write up a letter to a love interest on a piece of paper. Next, they will cut intricate designs around the writing, kind of like cutting a paper snowflake. At the bottom of the letter, the writer will sign their name only using dots. One dot = one letter of their name. If the recipient correctly guesses who sent them the letter, then the sender owes them Easter candies two months later. If the recipient does not guess correctly, they owe the sender Easter candies.
Getting Cold Feet in Slovenia
In Slovenia, Valentine’s marks the first day of working the fields since plants start growing in mid-February. St Gregory’s Day is then on March 12th and is known as the day that birds get married to each other. People in search of love will walk barefoot onto frozen fields to see the birds get married.
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