14 Valentine’s Day traditions from around the world
You won’t find cute little heart-shaped cards in German classrooms. “In Germany, Valentine’s Day is aimed toward adults only,” says Sharon Schweitzer, cross-cultural trainer and founder of Protocol & Etiquette Worldwide. “It’s strictly a ‘mature’ subject.” You’ll also be surprised to find pigs aplenty on the day for romance since the animal is a symbol of luck and lust. Couples will give each other pig figurines and pictures, and even chocolate pigs. While chocolate is a popular dessert of choice on Valentine’s Day, Germans nibble on heart-shaped ginger cookies with romantic messages written in icing.
Men traditionally do most of the gift-giving on Valentine’s Day in Western countries, but the opposite is true in South Korea, where women give chocolate to the men in their lives. A month later, on White Day, men return the favour by giving candy. But that’s not the end of it – single friends sometimes get together on Black Day on April 14 to eat black noodles.
Women give the chocolate on Valentine’s Day in Japan too. There are a few more nuances though. Colleagues and classmates expect ‘obligation chocolate’ (giri choco), but women save ‘true feeling’ chocolate (honmei choco), which is more expensive and often homemade, for their sweethearts. Not that the women miss out on the goodies. If they don’t want to wait a month for the men to reciprocate on White Day, they’ll treat themselves to jibun choco on February 14.
Italy celebrates Valentine’s Day as a lovers-only holiday, says Schweitzer. Baci Perugina chocolates, which have a romantic message written inside the foil, make for a popular gift. “‘Baci’ means ‘kiss’ in Italian,” says Schweitzer. “When they exchange the Baci Perugina – a little box of those small hazelnut chocolates – they’re exchanging kisses.”
Instead of red roses, snowdrops are a popular flower choice on Valentine’s Day in Denmark. Danish men also sometimes send women funny poems called gaekkebrev, signed anonymously with a series of dots. If the receiver can guess who sent the letter, he’ll give her an Easter egg later in the year.
As the city of love, Paris is a popular destination for couples on Valentine’s Day. “Some people think it is the world’s capital for Valentine’s Day,” says Schweitzer. Couples used to attach a padlock on the Pont des Arts ‘love lock bridge’ and throw the key in the River Seine. The locks were removed in 2015, with the bridge railings replaced with ones hard to attach a lock to, but lovers still attach locks to other bridges around Paris. But Paris isn’t the only French destination for romance, says Schweitzer. The village of St Valentin gets decked out in flowers every year for its Valentine’s Day festival, she says. Activities of the day include weddings, vow renewals and planting trees to commemorate love. French couples also exchange beautiful love notes called cartes d’amities, says Schweitzer.
February 14 isn’t just for couples in Mexico, where it is known as the Day of Love and Friendship, says Schweitzer. Balloons, flowers, stuffed animals and cards show appreciation for romantic interests and platonic friends alike.
Valentine’s Day is getting more popular in China, but the Qixi Festival is often called ‘Chinese Valentine’s Day.’ Celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month in the Chinese calendar – which usually falls in August – women traditionally prayed to find good husbands or gain great sewing skills. Now, though, it’s more similar to Western Valentine’s Day.
Finland and Estonia
Single people don’t need to feel lonely in Finland and Estonia, where Valentine’s Day is called ‘Friend’s Day.’ Cards and gifts express that a person values the friendship, but romantic love has a place too. In Estonia, riding a ‘love bus’ gives single people a chance to find romance.
Things aren’t all lovey dovey in Slovenia, where St Valentine is known as the patron saint of spring. With plants starting to grow, people can get back to work in the fields. With mating season starting, tradition also says the birds of the fields ‘marry’ on February 14. Anyone who wants to watch needs to walk barefoot through the fields, where the ground is usually still frozen. But love isn’t lost – St Gregory’s Day on March 12 gives couples a chance to celebrate their romance.
Instead of roses, Peruvians typically exchange orchids, which are native to Peru, on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day usually involves the typical romantic dinners, and gifts of roses and chocolates in the Czech Republic. But the country’s main Day of Love is on May 1, when lovers kiss under cherry trees for happiness and good health, says Schweitzer.
February 14 isn’t a big deal in Israel, but the ancient Jewish ceremony of Tu B’av feels like Valentine’s Day, says Schweitzer. Celebrated in the summer, “it’s about love and rebirth,” she says. Israelis celebrate romantic love with flowers and heart-shaped treats.
Instead of celebrating St Valentine, Brazilians honour St Anthony, the patron saint of marriage and matchmaking, on June 12. The night before, single women will write men’s names on pieces of paper then fold them up. In the morning, they pick a slip to reveal their future husbands.
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