British shops have been adorned with red roses, heart shaped chocolates and stuffed bears in an attempt to entice shoppers to spend on their significant others this Valentine’s Day. Couples are gearing up for the celebrations that will ensue tomorrow, preparing to exchange gifts.
Whether you like it or not, Valentine’s Day has increased in popularity across the world with many countries embracing the commercial aspect and celebrating it with vigour. What was once a purely ‘western’ phenomenon is common place in even the most conservative of countries. And we can understand why, the concept of marking romance and love is a touching notion, taking a moment out of hectic lifestyles to appreciate your partner is an opportunity for couples to celebrate one another.
Whether you sign up to the hype and go totally wild or prefer to keep things low key, we thought we’d move away from the quintessentially British Valentine’s celebration and take a look at the unusual ways love is declared and celebrated in other cultures.
Who knows, you might feel inspired to switch things up a little with these quirky traditions, some of which date back as far as Roman times!
Let’s begin the journey closer to home… and visit our neighbours in Wales first.
The Welsh are renowned for their passion here in the British Isles, so it comes as no surprise that they commemorate the Welsh patron saint of lovers, Saint Dwynwen on the 25th January. A romantic tradition dating back to the 16th Century. Traditionally, Welsh men would gift intricately carved wooden spoons or ‘love spoons’ to their lovers as a token of their affection. Often meaningful symbols would be hidden in the carvings lending an intimate touch to the gift.
Across the English Channel, the aptly named French village of St Valentin becomes the ‘epicentre of romance’ between the 12th and 14th February… The three days of celebration see houses in the village clad in roses and trees dressed in love knots, providing the perfect backdrop for couples to plant “lovers’ trees” which mark their love for one another…
Journeying into Spain, the residents of Valencia regard the most romantic day of the year as 9th October, the Day of Saint Dionysius – a Spanish patron saint of love. The occasion is marked with parades in the streets of Valencia where men offer their love interest beautiful marzipan figurines, a mocadora, as a token of their affection.
Dragobete translates to “The day the birds are betrothed” a Romanian tradition which falls on the 24th February and combines both the welcoming of Spring and love into one celebration. Rituals include going into the forest to pick flowers and washing one’s face with snow in a hope to bring health and happiness.
The 14th of February falls on St. Trifon Zarezan or winemakers Day in Bulgaria. Couples are encouraged toast to their relationships with locally sourced wine.
By contrast, the Finnish and Estonians commemorate Friendship as opposed to romantic love on the 14th February by giving gifts and cards to family members, friends and neighbours. The Estonians are also responsible for perhaps the quirkiest tradition we’ve come across - the Love Bus. Reserved for singletons, passengers embark upon a ride on this special bus with the hope of meeting their future love.
Moving on from Europe and into the continent of Africa; Ghana’s government cleverly announced February 14th as National Chocolate Day. The day celebrates all things chocolate in one of the world’s largest cocoa producing countries. The nation hosts a variety of chocolate related talks, exhibitions and workshops, making it an ideal ‘couple’ getaway – I mean who doesn’t love chocolate?
Further down south and you’ll find that the South African’s literally wear their hearts on their sleeves to mark Valentine’s Day. Inspired by the ancient Roman festival of Lupercalia, young South African women pin hearts bearing the name of their crush to their sleeve for all to see… a not so coy, but nonetheless fun way of making your feelings known, to all including your crush!
The far East has probably some of the most intriguing of celebrations steeped in folk lore and charming legends. China celebrates Qixi on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar. This festival of love was inspired by the legend of Zhinu and Niulang, two star crossed lovers who were forced apart because of their differing social status. According to Chinese lore, the pair were allowed to meet once a year on Qixi. Today, Qixi celebrations involve the preparation of melon and other fruit in the hope of future love, whilst couples visit temples and pray for prosperity.
In a twist from the western norm, Japanese women are expected to do the gifting on the 14th of February by spoiling their lovers with honmei-choco, homemade chocolate. The men return the gesture with gifts a month later on White Day which falls on the 14th March.
However, the South Koreans have a serious love affair with all things romantic and not only share the Japanese traditions mentioned above, but have additional days which fall on the 14th of several different months. These include a Rose Day in May, Kiss Day in June and Hug Day in December… not ideal for those of us who struggle with remember one date! However, April’s Black Day is a chance for singletons to get together over a meal of Jajangmyeon or black noodles.
14th of February isn’t enough for the Argentinians who, in addition to Valentine’s Day, dedicate the first week of July to love by celebrating La Semana de la Golosina or ‘Sweetness Week’, whereby kisses are exchanged for all things sweet.
Brazilians, on the other hand, celebrate Dia dos Namorados ‘Loves Day’ on the 12th June followed by paying homage to Saint Anthony, the patron saint of marriage on the 13th. Single Brazilian women perform simpatias or enchantments in the hope to attain love and marriage the following year.
It’s clear that celebrating romantic relationships are deep rooted in cultures across the world, dating back to century old customs. Taking time out to appreciate those around us who bring us joy and comfort only builds healthy meaningful relationships. What is important is that regardless of how and when, don’t limit displaying affection and warmth to a specific holiday.