How Is Valentine's Day Celebrated In Different Countries? | A Quick Guide
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Love is in the air.
Red hearts, roses, poetry, chocolates and Netflix and Chill are everywhere. As soon as Santa is back on his sleigh on the way back to the North Pole, the shops in the UK make way for Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated on the 14th of February and is the day people traditionally express love for one another. The day of romance has been capitalised on by society, leaving many cynical as to its actual importance for the proclamation of love.
Wherever you stand on Valentine’s Day, you certainly can’t miss it. But when did it all start? Is this only celebrated in the UK? Surely card companies haven’t been around for that long?
Keep on reading this fascinating blog for all the info you need on how Valentine’s Day is celebrated in different countries!
Early Origins Of Valentine’s Day
Well, Valentine’s Day can be traced back to Ancient Rome when a priest, Saint Valentine, was imprisoned for being Christian. It wasn’t OK to be Christian in Rome so there were grave consequences for this.
Here’s where it gets a bit confusing. The Catholic Church recognises at least three saints that were called Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom are considered martyrs (someone who dies in the name of their religious beliefs).
The most famous of these stories is of one Saint Valentine in Rome in the 3rd Century. He restored the sight to his jailer’s blind daughter. You can see how Valentine’s Day has always been steeped in kindness and love, sort of.
The martyrdom stories of the various Valentines have all been linked to 14th February in some way which in itself is pretty cool or pretty suspicious. And, as time has gone on, these stories have been, well, embellished somewhat. One iteration of the restored sight story is that Saint Valentine left a letter signed “Your Valentine” for the guard’s daughter before he was executed. This came about in the 18th Century, some 1500 years since the original story.
There are some claims that Valentine’s Day originated from the pagan ritual of Lupercalia celebrated on the 15th of February. This was an ancient festival in A.D 270 whereby women’s names were dropped in an urn, chosen by men and the men then chased that woman. It’s not as horrifying as it sounds, women welcomed this as it was supposed to promote fertility and often ended in marriage.
The first time Valentine’s Day was celebrated was in A.D 496 to commemorate the life of, yes you guessed it, Saint Valentine of Rome. This was celebrated on 14th February.
Valentine’s Day In Medieval Europe
The first record of Valentine’s Day mentioned in a romantic light was in the fabulous Canterbury Tales. Often referred to as the “Father of English Literature”, Geoffrey Chaucer was a social commentator and satirist. If he was mentioning Valentine’s Day as being celebrated in England on the 14th of February and for lovers, it most likely was.
As time went on, Valentine’s Day grew to be more synonymous with love rather than religion. In the 14th and 15th Centuries, courtly Petrarchan love was immensely popular. Flowery language is full of nature and early spring lovebirds. Can you see where this is going?
The earliest time the 14th of February was viewed as an annual celebration of love was in 1400 when Charles VI of France ordered a celebration of love to be held, complete with feasts, poetry competitions, knights and jousting, drinking and overall merriment. We’ve got to thank the French for a lot, as well as romantic poetry that emerged in the 15th Century by Charles, Duke of Orleans to his wife.
Later History of Valentine’s Day
Language and traditions evolve as the true meanings of ‘days’ get lost. It was, however, only in the 18th Century when people started to exchange flowers and gifts such as chocolates and greetings cards. Greetings cards evolved from the handwritten Valentine’s notes and in the 19th Century, cards and chocolates were being mass-produced for a now globally ubiquitous commercial holiday.
Whether you’re a cynic or a sucker for romance, Valentine’s Day is hard to ignore. Symbols usually include hearts, cupids, flowers and lots and lots of red.
So, what we’ve described is pretty standard practice for the USA and the UK, but what about the rest of the world?
Valentine’s Day Across the World
In Latin America, Valentine’s Day is also associated with acts of appreciation for friends. In the Dominican Republic and El Salvador, people take part in a tradition that is known as Secret Friend, a twist on Secret Santa whereby people give presents to close friends.
Brazil’s Carnival is too close to Valentine’s Day so Día dos Namorados (Lovers Day) is celebrated on the 12th of June and people exchange the usual choccies, flowers and cards.
As well to Valentine’s Day, White Day is celebrated on the 14th of March and is also growing in popularity throughout Southeast Asia. Originating from Japan in the late 1970s, White Day is celebrated one month after Valentine’s Day. In countries which observe White Day, girls and women typically give homemade or shop-bought confectionary gifts to persons of interest as a sign of love and affection. White Day is a chance for reciprocation. People who received gifts on Valentine’s Day, usually give gifts back to that same person, a super sweet twist. For Taiwanese people, it’s the men who give first on Valentine’s Day and women on White Day.
Further variations of Valentine’s Day rituals include South Korea’s Black Day on the 14th of April whereby people who didn’t receive anything on Valentine’s or White Day, go and eat black noodles.
As a student in the UK, you’ll see lots of cheesy club nights, cards, present options and also lots of anti-Valentine’s Day things to do. Singles and Friends Day is super popular if you don’t want to get sucked into the romantics or semantics of it all. Either way, it’s a fun occasion with religious origins and now stark commercial overtones. Get involved if you want to and if it’s not your bag then get together with the friends you love and have a great day.