Celebrated on Feb. 14, it is often marked by giving gifts to and spending time with loved ones. In the U.S., shelves brimming with teddy bears and boxes of chocolate are typical Valentine’s Day fare, but not every country turns to greeting cards and heart-shaped candies to declare love.
It’s been said that the first Valentine’s Day card originated in France when Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415. Today, Valentine’s Day cards remain a popular tradition in France and around the world.
Another traditional Valentine’s Day event in France was the loterie d’amour, or “drawing for love.” Men and women would fill houses that faced one another, and then take turns calling out to one another and pairing off. Men who weren’t satisfied with their match could simply leave a woman for another, and the women left unmatched gathered afterwards for a bonfire.
During the bonfire, women burned pictures of the men who wronged them and hurled swears and insults at the opposite sex. The event became so uncontrollable that the French government eventually banned the tradition all together.
Although Valentine’s Day is a relatively new holiday in Denmark (celebrated since the early 1990s according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs), the country has embraced Feb. 14 with a Danish twist. Rather than roses, friends and sweethearts exchange pressed white flowers called snowdrops.
Another popular Danish Valentine’s Day tradition is the exchange of “lover’s cards.” While lover’s cards were originally transparent cards which showed a picture of the card giver presenting a gift to his sweetheart, the term is now synonymous with any card exchanged on Valentine’s Day.
Men may also give women gaekkebrev, a “joking letter” consisting of a funny poem or rhyme written on intricately cut paper and 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.
In South Korea, Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday for young couples and variations of the holiday are celebrated monthly from February through April. The gift-giving starts on February 14, when it’s up to women to woo their men with chocolates, candies, and flowers. The tables turn on March 14, a holiday known as White Day, when men not only shower their sweethearts with chocolates and flowers, but up the ante with a gift.
Not all countries recognize the holiday, but still have celebrations with similar themes. Ghana celebrates “National Chocolate Day” on the 14th. It is a step that the government took in 2007 to increase tourism in the country. Ghana is among the largest cocoa producing countries in the world. On Feb 14, one can attend performances, music events, and restaurants have themed menus for the special day.
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 cow-herd, 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 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.
Estonia celebrates friendship day known as Sobrapaev. This amazing festival includes everyone, from couples to singles. So not just couples, but family members and friends also exchange gifts and celebrate love.
With Carnival held sometime in February or March each year, Brazilians skip the Feb. 14 celebration and instead celebrate Dia dos Namorados, or “Lovers’ Day,” on June 12. In addition to the usual exchanges of chocolates, flowers and cards, music festivals and performances are held throughout the country. Gift giving isn’t limited to couples, either. In Brazil, people celebrate this day of love by exchanging gifts and sharing dinner with friends and relatives, too.
More than a celebration of love, Valentine’s Day is a time for discovering interesting traditions that are deeply rooted to unique cultures. Whether it be eating chocolate or sending cards anonymously, it is up to you how to make your Valentine’s Day extraordinary.