Love is in the Air: Valentine’s Day Traditions from Around the World

February 14—Valentine’s Day—is celebrated by couples, lovers and friends around the world, not just in the United States. It’s certainly a global experience.
The origin of Valentine’s Day remains unclear. One of the most popular legends, as best Image of a box of Valentine chocolatesdescribed by the International TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) Academy, involves the Roman priest Valentine (or Valentinus) who lived during the third century: “When Emperor Claudius II decided single men made better soldiers than those with families, he outlawed marriage. Valentine continued to perform marriages in secret, causing Claudius to order he be put to death…. It is also told that Valentine sent the first Valentine’s Day greeting. Yet another legend says Valentine fell in love while imprisoned, perhaps with the jailor’s daughter who visited him. Before his death, he is said to have written her a letter and signed it “From your Valentine.”
Whatever its true origins, the popularity of Valentine’s Day around the world proves that love is the most powerful of human emotions, regardless of nationality, language or location. So as you plan your day with your special someone this year, consider taking some cues from how other countries celebrate their Valentine’s Day Traditions.

  • France – Many believe that the French started the tradition of delivering Valentine’s Day cards after Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his wife while imprisoned in 1415. The “City of Love” remains one of the most popular destinations for Valentine’s Day travelers.
  • Germany – Germans consider the pig as a symbol of luck and lust, so it’s not usual to see the image of a pig included in gifts, cards, candy or other celebrations of the day.
  • South Korea – Those in love or in search of it enjoy different but related holidays over three successive months. On February 14 women give gifts to men, typically chocolate, candy and flowers. On March 14, it’s the man’s turn to offer gifts to his mate. Not to be left out, singles celebrate—or mourn—their status on April 14 by eating noodles topped with black bean paste.
  • Japan – Japanese celebrate in similar ways as those in South Korea. However, it’s not unusual for the men on March 14 (known as White Day) to return the gifts they received from the women on February 14, which means the women, in effect, get to select their own present. When giving chocolates, many Japanese choose to bake their own as a sign of true affection as opposed to simply buying candies from a store.
  • Denmark – The Danish celebrate Valentine’s Day by giving friends and lovers pressed white flowers called snowdrops.
  • Philippines – Love is truly in the air on February 14 in the Philippines. An annual tradition is for hundreds of couples to participate in mass public weddings on Valentine’s Day.
  • South Africa – South African women pin the names of their crushes on their sleeves, allowing men to learn of their secret admirers.
  • Bulgaria – February 14 is also St. Trifon Zarezan Day or Winemakers Day where couples celebrate their love with a glass of wine.
  • Chile – The “Dia de San Valentin” is celebrated with plenty of festivities and decorations. A major marketing push encourages couples to shop, dine, travel and be entertained on February 14. Not unlike U.S. customs, the day is filled with chocolates, flowers, love letters and gifts of jewelry.
  • Estonia – February 14 celebrates romantic love, but it also brings good friends and neighbors closer together through gift exchanges. And while it is a popular day for couples to get engaged, singles can search for their true love by taking a ride on the Love Bus.
  • United Kingdom – The UK claims the honor of connecting roses to Valentine’s Day gift-giving. Roses were said to be the favorite of Venus, the roman goddess of love. They also continue a tradition that began in the Victorian age of sending anonymous letters to loved ones or secret crushes. Victorians believed signing their name to the card was considered bad luck.
  • Wales – Instead of a February date, the Welsh celebrate Saint Dwynwen Day on January 25. The traditional gift is a love spoon, each intricately carved with symbols and patterns conveying different meanings.
  • Italy – In days gone by, single Italian women would find their future husband on Valentine’s Day. On this day, it was said, the first man they saw would become their husband within a year. Today, Italians celebrate more traditionally with romantic dinners, intimate gifts and chocolates —the most popular being Baci Perugina (chocolate-covered hazelnuts).

Regardless of how you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day this year, just remember you’re sharing a tradition that has many unique variations but only one common theme—Love!
Photo Credit: “A box of Valentine chocolates in a heart-shaped box” by Dwight Burdette is licensed under CC BY 3.0
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