When you think of Valentine’s Day, what comes to mind? February 14th, hearts, roses, chocolate, cards, stuffed animals? Spending time with the one you love?
This holiday is named for Saint Valentine, a Roman priest martyred reportedly around February 14 in the 3rd century. It was said he was executed because he married young couples, even though marriage was banned as it “ruined good soldiers.” Before his execution he was imprisoned and fell in love with the jailor’s daughter. He would send her notes signed “from your Valentine” – which is why today’s cards contain this phrase. There was also already a pagan fertility festival called Lupercalia held in mid-February and the early Christian churches used Saint Valentine‘s day to replace this ritual starting in 495.
Today this holiday is celebrated in different ways around the world.
Canada: A Holiday For All Ages
As in the United States, Valentine’s Day has become rather commercialized in Canada. Where there may have been more handmade notes exchanged previously, now it is largely all commercially-made cards. Canadians, like their southern neighbors, often consider the holiday one created by greeting card companies.
In addition to cards, roses, chocolates, and candies are all shared with spouses and sweethearts. Parties are also often organized on or around the date. Even though many people think of the day as one for lovers, in Canada gifts are frequently given to other loved ones and friends as well. Within families, the day can be celebrated by just the parents as a couple or along with their children.
Children exchange gifts with their friends, most often by the giving of valentines at school. These school valentines can be handmade or store-bought. Many times, the kids make their own “mailboxes” by decorating small boxes, such as empty tissue boxes, with colored paper, stickers, and crayons. Their schoolmates then drop off the cards in these boxes.
Traditional Valentine’s Day dates for couples include dinners at fancy restaurants, visits at wineries, and special hotel package stays. As Canada is known for its great outdoor activities, some couples choose adventures such as ice-skating hand-in-hand with their sweetheart or snow-shoeing to discover a new place together!
New Zealand’s Summer Love Holiday
Valentine’s Day was introduced to New Zealand by British settlers. Today Kiwis celebrate by exchanging the typical gifts of candy, cards, and flowers. Restaurants are often booked solid on February 14th as couples go out to celebrate their love over a nice meal.
While most Kiwis interviewed say the most important thing is to spend time together with their loved one, in reality, it isn’t so simple. Women tend to put more importance on the date than men and expect their significant other to put in more effort. Even if the holiday is very commercialized, most people would be upset if their lover forgot the day and didn’t mark the occasion with at least a little something.
As New Zealand is in the middle of summer when February 14th rolls around, couples can enjoy a variety of outdoor dates. For the really adventurous types, there is tandem bungee jumping – talk about leaping into love! If the summer heat isn’t already hot enough, there are also geothermal hot pools to relax. A cooler way to enjoy the water is to take a romantic cruise around lakes with pristine waters or sail around the harbors. For a break from the heat, lovers can quench their thirst after touring a brewery and/or winery in places like Marlborough or Waiheke Island.
Love à la Française
France is known worldwide as a romantic country, with its capital Paris being nicknamed “the City of Love”. The people of France, along with the English, began exchanging gifts of love, sending cards, and celebrating Valentine’s Day during the Middle Ages. The first true Valentine’s Day card in France is said to have originated in 1415 from letters that Charles, le Duc d’Orléans, sent to his wife professing his love while imprisoned in the Tower of London. Cards have largely fallen out of favor today, with the French preferring to share a romantic meal together instead. Flowers and chocolates from chocolatiers are offered as well, but the holiday is only celebrated by teens and adults in relationships.
Supposedly France historically held a loterie d’amour on Valentine’s Day – a “drawing for love.” Unmarried men and women would separate into houses across the street from one another before calling out and pairing off. If a man didn’t like his match, he could leave her for another woman. The spurned and leftover women would gather afterwards for a bonfire where they would burn effigies of all the men who scorned them, while screaming insults and swearing. However, the event grew out of hand over time and was thus banned by the government.
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Relatively New to the Valentine’s Game: Germany
Valentine’s Day, or Valentinstag, only really began to be celebrated in Germany after World War II when Americans stationed in the country introduced it through their own festivities. In 1950 Nuremberg held Germany’s very first “Valentine’s Ball”. Today less than 40% of Germans celebrate the holiday – except in Bavaria where this number is over 50%! This doesn’t necessarily mean Germans aren’t lovers though; rather there is an overlap with carnival season, so the day is less of an event in Germany than in some other countries.
Today, because flowers are very often given as a gift for the holiday, some Germans blame the flower industry for the creation of this holiday. Among flowers it is, unsurprisingly, the rose that is the most widely sold – some 1000 tons just for Valentine’s Day! Other gifts given are lingerie and chocolate along with a romantic dinner in a restaurant or simply at home. In Germany, the holiday is more of an adult one, so children aren’t exchanging valentines in school like they do in Canada. If you want to add an easy German touch to your celebration, make sure to tell your lover “Ich liebe Dich” on February 14th!
Japan’s Two Love Holidays
Japan has two love-filled holidays. Japanese women launch the love on February 14th by giving chocolate to men in their lives. They have two types of chocolate: giri-choco and honmei-choco. Giri-choco, or “obligation chocolate”, is the nonromantic, often store-bought version, which women give to their friends, colleagues, and family, both male and female. Honmei-choco is only given to one special person, be it a boyfriend, lover, husband, or just someone they are romantically interested in. Most Japanese women prepare these chocolates themselves as the time spent making them shows how much they care for the recipient. Thus, in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day, the stores become packed with women buying chocolates (heart-shaped or not), chocolate-making supplies, and cute gift wrap for the gifts.
On March 14th, it is the men’s turn. Japan’s White Day sees men gifting those women who gave them chocolates gifts of their own. If they choose to give chocolates as well, these are usually white to go along with the day’s name. However, most often the men are expected to give gifts that are two or three times as valuable as the ones they received. White Day began in Japan at the end of the 1970s and other Asian countries, such as Vietnam and South Korea also celebrate it.
In South Korea there are even three variations of the holiday celebrated. First, on February 14th it’s up to the ladies to give their guys gifts such as candy and flowers. Then a month later on White Day it is the men’s turn, giving candy, flowers, and adding another gift on top. And if someone has no sweetheart? Well for them there’s Black Day on April 14th where lonely hearts can drown their sorrows in black bean-paste noodles known as jajangmyeon.
A Few Other Ways to Celebrate
In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day sees mass weddings held, sometimes with a few hundred couples all saying “I do” at the same time.
Unlike England, which celebrates similarly to France, its neighbor Wales does not usually celebrate Saint Valentine. Rather the Welsh have Saint Dwynwen as their patron saint of lovers. Her saint’s day is a few weeks earlier on January 25.
Most Latin American countries celebrate both love and friendship on the day, doing things for each other instead of simply giving gifts. Brazil itself never celebrates Valentine’s Day on February 14th as the date is either right before, during, or after the Brazilian Carnival.
No matter when and how, love is celebrated in every country and culture around the world. Don’t feel like you have to wait for a particular date to show you care.