On the 14th of February, we are celebrating another Valentine’s Day. It is the day of the year when couples are wrapping their last gifts and singles are piling up their wine bottles. It is one of those holidays that has become a major event in western culture. According to Hallmark, the oldest and largest greeting card company in the USA, around 145 million cards are exchanged for Valentine’s day which makes it the second-largest occasion for buying greeting cards. In 2018, people in the USA approximately spend $143.56 (€127.06) on gifts for Valentine’s Day. According to Mintel, the spendings have even overtaken those for Easter making it the biggest retail event in the first half of the year. In 2017 the British spent £620 (€707.55) million on Valentine’s gifts as opposed to £575 (€656.19) million they spent at Easter. So much for the western hemisphere. But how about the rest of the globe? How are they celebrating the festival of love? Babylon Radio has put together a list of 5 great St. Valentine’s traditions in countries from all around the world.
Since the 50s, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Japan on the 14th of February. Unlike most western countries, however, it is customary that it is the women who give chocolates to the men. The Japanese differ between “Giri choco” which literally means “obligatory chocolates” and “Honmei choco”. The first is given to coworkers or casual acquaintances whereas the second, and more expansive one is intended for husbands, boyfriends or a love interest. Complementarily, on the White Day, celebrated on the 14th of March, men are supposed to buy their sweethearts presents. It originated in the 70s when a small confectionary shop invented the Valentine’s counterpart to boost their sales. However, especially in the past years, women grew more and more tired of this tradition as especially the Giri choco puts a lot of pressure on them. Not wanting to offend coworkers, they are forced to spend thousands of yen on chocolates.
In South Korea, love is not just celebrated on Valentine’s Day but on the 14th of every month of the year. Similar to the Japanese tradition, on the 14th of February, women are supposed to give their loved ones and coworkers chocolates. Also, on the 14th of March, Korea celebrates the White Day where men return the favour. Apart from that Koreans also have the Black Day on the 14th of April which is dedicated to the singles who have not been given presents on either Valentine’s or White Day. It is called Black because on that day singles come together and eat black noodles. Except from those three, there is the Diary Day in January, the Rose Day in May, the Kiss Day in June, the Silver Day in July, the Green Day in August, the Photo Day in September, the Wine Day in October, the Movie Day in November and the Hug Day in December.
South Africa also celebrates Valentine’s Day on the 14th of February. Traditionally, girls pin their loved-ones names on their sleeve to show their love for them. The tradition is said to originate in the ancient Roman spring festival of “Lupercalia”. This one, however, did not start out as a particularly romantic festival as it included sacrificing goats and dogs and cutting off thongs of their skin. Men then would run around the city slapping girls with it which was meant to make them fertile. “Lupercalia” is often thought of as being the forerunner of Valentine’s Day. However, historians have said that there is no sure proof of it being so.
China’s equivalent of Valentine’s day is the so-called “Qixi Festival” or “Double Seventh Festival”. It is celebrated, according to the lunar calendar, on the 7th day of the 7th month. In 2019, it will be on the 7th of August. The festival is often associated with the ancient tale of “The Cowherd and the Weaver Girl”. According to the story, there was a cowherd named Niulang who lived with his old ox in a cottage. One day, Niulang came to a sacred pond in which the goddess and skilled weaver Zhinu bathed. To make her fall in love with him, he hid her clothes. His plan worked out and Zhinu became his wife. The couple lived together in happiness for many years. However, when Zhinu’s father, the Jade Emperor, became aware of her being married to a mortal, he sent the Empress to bring back Zhinu. And so she did, but Niulang would not give up on his wife and followed her into the sky. Angry about him entering heaven, the Empress turned Niulang into the star Altair and Zhinu in Vega. It is only once a year that the lovers are able to see each other as both stars come closest together – and that is the 7th day of the 7th month.
It is in Geoffrey Chaucer’s 1382 poem Parlement of Foules that the connection between St. Valentine’s and love is being made for the first time. It says “every bird cometh to choose his mate” on “seynt Voantynes day”. In Romania, the equivalent of Valentine’s Day takes on a very similar meaning. It is celebrated on February the 24th and is called Dragobete. It is believed that on Dragobete Day, the returning birds are choosing their future partners and building their nests. Birds who would not find a partner on that day are said to stay alone until the next Dragobete. Similar to the birds, it has become custom that women and men are going out together celebrating so that they will find a partner and not stay alone like the birds. The participants of the celebrations are then dressing up in their finest clothes, engaging in singing and dancing, or going out into the woods or meadows.