The World celebrations of Valentine’s Day
Valentine’s Day is celebrated throughout the world by a vast array of countries and cultures, though not all of them follow the same traditions as the United States or Great Britain. There are regional touches to the day, in Norfolk, a person called ‘Jack’ Valentine knocks on the rear door of houses leaving sweets, treats and even presents for children. Even in nearby Wales Valentine’s celebrations are slightly altered: they are called Dydd Santes Dwynwen (St. Dwynwen’s Day) and are held on Jan 25 to honour St Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers.
In France, Valentine’s Day is known as “Saint Valentin”, and in Spain, Valentine’s Day is known as “San Valentin”; both share the tradition we are familiar with, though in Catalonia it replaced by similar festivals where roses or books are given on La Diada de Sant Jordi (Saint George’s Day). In Portugal it is called “Dia dos Namorados” (Lover’s Day).
Meanwhile in most of Latin American the “Día del Amory la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship) and the Amigo Secreto (Secret friend) are both celebrated on Feb 14 with the exception being Colombia, where it is celebrated instead on the third Saturday of September. The Amigo Secreto, as the name implies, involves randomly assigning to each participant a recipient for their anonymous gift. A delightful tradition, don’t you agree? In Mexico, Costa Rico, Ecuador, and Puerto Rico people carry out “acts of appreciation” for their friends. Similarly in Guatemala this day is known as the “Día del Cariño” (Affection Day). In Brazil, because of cultural and commercial reasons mainly having to do with the proximity of the larger fete of Carnivale, February 14’s Valentine’s Day is not celebrated. Instead, they celebrate Dia dos Namorados (“Lovers’ Day”, or “Boyfriends’/Girlfriends’ Day”), which falls on June 12. It is the day before the day of Saint Anthony, known there as the Marriage Saint, when, according to tradition, many single women perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or boyfriend. On this day couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards and flower bouquets.
American and British culture has introduced Valentines celebrations to Norway and Denmark where Valentisdag is celebrated on the 14th of February. In Sweden, it is called Alla hjartans dag (All Hearts Day) and the day is dedicated to sending cards, giving roses or having a romantic dinner with a loved one. As is to be expected, the floral and cosmetic industries are behind the popularization of this day in Scandinavia. Finland celebrates Ystävänpäivä (Friend’s Day) and, as the name implies, this day is for more than celebrating with loved ones, it is also for recollecting all one’s good friends. Estonia shares the Finnish tradition, calling the celebration Sõbrapäev. Latvia and Lithuania recently started celebrating the day after they gained statehood and independence from the former Soviet Union in 1990 and the festivities include pasting stickers on the clothing of friends and relatives.
In Slovenia the first plants and flowers start to grow in mid-February and Valentine’s Day is celebrated as the day when the first work is done in the vineyards, fields and gardens. This practice gave rise to the saying “St. Valentine brings the keys of roots” and “Valentine, the first Saint of Spring”. Traditionally the Slovenian Day of Love was St. Gregory’s Day on March 12th, the day on which the birds propose or marry before settling down to build their nests.
The Romanian day of love was always observed on February 24th and is called Dragobete, named after a treasured character from folklore, the son of Baba Dochia, whose name includes the word drag or “dear” and dragoste meaning “love”. Lately many Romanians have joined with the rest of the world to celebrate on February 14th as well and have drawn criticism from nationalist institutions and organizations, such as Noua Dreapta, that it is superficial commercial kitsch rooted in Western, not Romanian, culture.
In Greece and Greek Cyprus the day is called Ημέρα του Αγίου Βαλεντίνου or “St. Valentine’s Day”.
Egypt celebrates February 14th as well as their indigenous holiday of the Eid el-Hob el-Masri (Love Day) on November 4th. Both days involve buying gifts, cards and flowers for loved ones.
Israel celebrates the Tu B’Av on the 15th of the Hebrew calendar month of Av (late August) as a festival of love. It was a time when girls in their white dresses would go out to dance in the vineyards where the boys were waiting for them. In modern times it is a popular day to declare your love, propose marriage and give cards and flowers.
In Pakistan the Jamaat-e-Islami political party has tried to ban Valentine’s Day to no avail. Florists anticipate brisk business of the selling of flowers, particularly red roses on this day.
In Iran the Esfandegan, or Sepandarmazgan, is a time honoured custom celebrating love, friendship and The Earth. Though unrelated to Saint Valentine celebrations save for the fact they too give gifts, flowers and etc. to their beloved, it has been gradually supplanted by the catchy Western concept of Valentine’s Day. Since 2006 however, the Association of Iran’s Cultural and Natural Phenomena has been striving to reinstate Sepandarmazgan a state holiday on 17 February, therefore replacing Valentine’s Day. Meanwhile Islamic Teachers have voiced their strong opposition to anything remotely similar to Valentine’s Celebration, as being an affront to Islamic culture. In 2011 they, with the backing of unions, enforced a ban on the production and distribution of any Valentine printing material in shops and outlets. This ban included such things as cards with heart designs, posters, gifts, flowers, red-roses, teddy bears, or any activity relating to this holiday. Failure to observe the ban would meet with dire legal consequences.
In 2002 and later in 2008 Saudi Arabia’s religious police got the go ahead to enforce a ban on all Valentine items as well as anything with the colour red which is offered for sale up to and including Valentine’s Day, as this day was deemed a Christian holiday. Unable to stem the popularity of the concept of celebrating love, this repression has only created an underground black market for roses, cards and wrapping paper.
In India the Western valentine celebrations seem rather timid, when compared to the long standing rituals of the Art of Love on that subcontinent. Since ancient times there existed the custom of paying homage to the Lord of Love, Kamadeva, and following the famous treatise on lovemaking: the Kama Sutra. Around the Middle-Ages public displays of sexual affections became frowned upon and, as a result, celebrations of Kamadeva ceased to exist. In 1992 special TV and radio programs which promoted love letter competitions, as well as the availability of Valentine cards for Valentine’s Day led to a resurgence of interest that quickly caught on in India. Today the old school religious extremists, both Islamic and Hindu conservatives, deem this to be cultural contamination from the West. They have urged their followers to spurn the observance of a love day. Fearing this sort of globalization might disrupt their traditional way of life featuring arranged marriages, segregation of the female as a full-time wife and mother, and suppression of women’s rights. Even the Leftist ideologies express opposition to Valentine’s Day as a front for Imperialism or neo-colonialism and its exploitation of working classes through commercialism by corporations. They have supported findings that prove the Valentine’s Day concept promotes and exacerbates Indian income inequality and fosters the creation of a westernized middle class backed by hegemonic capitalism, ultimately alienating the rural poor and the urban working poor both politically, socially.
In Malaysia, Islamic officials warned the people against Valentine’s Day festivities, equating it to vice crime. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the celebration of romantic love (in a country where arranged marriage is the norm) is “not suitable” for Muslims. Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz (head of Malaysian Islamic Development Department) cited a 2005 fatwah by the top clerics of Malaysia and proclaimed that Valentine’s Day is associated with elements of Christianity and as such Malaysians “cannot get involved with another religion’s worshipping rituals.” In 2011, Jakim officials launched a nationwide campaign “Awas Jerat Valentine’s Day” (Mind the Valentine’s Day Trap), in order to prevent supposed wayward Muslims from celebrating the day on February 14. By raiding hotels where young couples met Malaysian religious authorities arrested and charged more than a hundred Muslim couples that dared to still celebrate in Shariah Court. In the West we are not used to such severe reaction to expressions of affection and love.
In South Korea the 14th of every month, not just February, pretty much marks a love-related day. From January to December there is Candle Day, Valentine’s Day, White Day, Black Day, Rose Day, Kiss Day, Silver Day, Green Day, Music Day, Wine Day, Movie Day, and Hug Day. Here and in Japan, women give chocolate to men on February 14, and men give non-chocolate candy to women on March 14 (White Day). In a strange reversal on April 14 (Black Day) those who did not receive anything on the 14th of February or March go to a Korean restaurant to eat black noodles and “mourn” their single life. Koreans also celebrate Pepero Day on November 11, when young couples give each other Pepero cookies. The date ’11/11′ is intended to resemble the long shape of the cookie.
In 1936 Japan Morozoff Ltd. first introduced the Valentine’s Day concept in an advertisement aimed at foreigners. Later in 1953, when it began promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates, other Japanese confectionery companies followed suit. Then in 1958 the Isetan department store ran a “Valentine Sale”. Other campaigns during the 1960’s popularized it further. The custom that only women give chocolates to men (particularly the idea of office ladies giving chocolate to their co-workers) had its beginnings in a typo of a chocolate company executive during these early ad campaigns.
Contrary to the western custom of giving greeting cards, candies, flowers, or taking a loved one out on a dinner date, in Japan the chief concern seems to be more about giving the right amount of chocolate to each person. It’s almost obligatory for women to give chocolates to all male co-workers, except when the day falls on a Sunday, a day off work. This is known as giri-choko, (giri meaning obligation and choko meaning chocolate). Unpopular co-workers receive only chō-giri choko (meaning cheap chocolate). This differs with honmei-choko, which is a chocolate given to a loved one. Friends, especially girls, may exchange chocolate tomo-choko from the word tomo meaning “friend”.
In 1980 the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a successful campaign to make March 14 a “reply day”, where men are expected to reciprocate the favour of Valentine’s Day chocolates, calling it White Day after the color of the chocolates being offered. Furthermore the color white was chosen because it is the color of purity, evoking “pure, sweet teen love”, and because it is also the color of sugar. The initial name was “Ai ni Kotaeru White Day” (Answer Love on White Day). At this time men are also obliged to dispense gifts that are at least two or three times more valuable than the gifts received on the Valentine’s Day. Failure to comply is perceived as the man placing himself in a position of superiority without having any good excuses. Returning a present of equal value is considered as severing, or cutting off, that relationship. Presently, chocolate gift giving has expanded to include diverse items such as jewellery, accessories, clothing and lingerie.
In Taiwan it is the men who give gifts to women on the Valentine’s Day, and the women who return them on White day.
In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is called “Araw ng mga Puso” or “Hearts Day”. It is usually marked by a sharp increase in the prices of flowers.
In China Modern Valentine’s Day is also celebrated on February 14 of the solar calendar each year. This is when a male counterpart typically gives flowers, chocolate or both to his beloved. The traditional Chinese celebration of Love is the Qixi Festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. The Qixi Festival is a special time commemorating the day on which a legendary cow herder and weaving maid are allowed to be together. Here’s a brief synopsis of the delightful folktale:
Once, a young boy, named Niulang (cowherd), chanced upon a beautiful girl, Zhinu (weavergirl), who was the seventh daughter of the Goddess in Heaven. Niulang, being bored in Heaven, escaped to earth in search of excitement. Zhinu and Niulang soon fell in love and so got married. They lived happily for many a year and had two wonderful children. Their happiness was interrupted however when the Goddess of Heaven found out that Zhinu was missing and, furthermore, had married a mere mortal. Furious, she forced the fairy Zhinu to return to heaven and resume her former duty of weaving colourful clouds, a task which she’d neglected while living in bliss on earth with the mortal.
Meanwhile back on earth, Niulang was upset and missed his wife terribly since the day she’d gone missing. Taking pity on Niulang, the ox spoke up and told Niulang that if he killed the ox and put on its hide, he would be able to go up to Heaven and find his wife. Niulang, sobbing bitterly, did as he was told and he and his children arrived in Heaven and begun searching for Zhinu. The Goddess learned of this and was again infuriated. Removing her hairpin she scratched a wide river in the sky, forming the Milky Way stretching from Altair and Vega, and so permanently separating the lovers. From then on Zhinu was constrained to sit on one side of the river, mournfully weaving on her loom, while Niulang, caring for the children, watched her from afar.
Magpies in the world however took pity on them and once a year, on the seventh night of the seventh moon, they would all fly up to heaven to form a bridge over the star Deneb in the Cygnus constellation so that the lovers may be reunited, if only for a single night. What a wonderful expression of romantic love!
Where ever you are, whatever country, whatever you call it, it being all the same, I wish you all a very Happy Valentine’s Day!