Posted on Wednesday, February 9, 2011
Every February 14 in the United States we engage in well-loved Valentine’s Day traditions: exchanging cards, eating chocolates, giving flowers and, of course, sending candy-grams!
But this day of affection extends around the world. Multiple nations put their own unique twist on Valentine’s Day, from black noodles to vineyard maintenance to giveaways of fancy vacations.
Who Was Saint Valentine?
Popular legend has it that Saint Valentine was a Christian priest in Rome, persecuted for performing marriages in secret after the emperor had outlawed young men from marrying.
Sentenced to execution, he supposedly composed a letter while in his prison cell to his beloved. It was signed “from your Valentine.”
The modern origins of current Valentine’s Day traditions can be traced to 19th century England. A reduction in postage rates allowed people to easily and anonymously mail Valentine’s cards. Cards became so popular that factories began to mass-produce them, complete with real lace and ribbons.
In the 20th century, thanks to the wonders of marketing, the tradition of giving gifts on Valentine’s Day extended beyond cards to chocolate, flowers and jewelry.
A Day for Friends and Sweethearts
Most western nations in the world share similar Valentine’s Day traditions to the ones in the United States, although with some minor alterations.
In Slovenia, a common proverb says that “St. Valentine brings the keys of roots,” so it is considered the day plants and flowers start to grow. This is also typically the day when the first work in the fields and vineyards commences.
In some Latin American countries, like Mexico, Ecuador and Costa Rica, Valentine’s Day is the “Day of Love and Friendship.” Gift giving to loved ones is similar to that in the United States, and it is also common to perform appreciative acts for one’s friends.
In Ghana, Valentine’s Day has taken an expressly commercialized turn. Many people listen to local radio broadcasts on February 14 in hopes of winning all kinds of prizes, from cosmetics and kitchenware to expensive vacations.
Don’t Eat the Black Noodles
In Japan, Valentine’s Day traditions become a practice of role-reversal, and it’s all because of a translation error. When chocolate companies started popularizing the holiday on a global scale in the 50s, one company mistranslated its message, and directed women to give gifts of chocolate to men. When the mistake was realized, the Japanese simply added a date a month later where men are expected to give chocolates in return.
In Korea, too, women traditionally give men chocolates on February 14. They typically give sweets to not only their beloved, but also male coworkers. Men return the favor a month later on White Day, in which they are expected to give gifts two or three times as expensive as the ones they received on Valentine’s Day.
Koreans also have Black Day (April 14), in which people who didn’t get any gifts the previous months go out to eat black Jajang noodles in mourning of their single life.
Valentine’s Day traditions are also beginning to gain acceptance in nations like Iran with a younger, more westernized audience. Some stores in Tehran decorate their windows with chocolates, stuffed animals and heart-shaped balloons while teenagers hold hands in the street as a demonstration of their affection.
Which time-honored Valentine’s Day tradition do you most look forward to?