Valentine’s Day can be stigmatized as a commercial holiday meant to help sell cards, flowers and candy. However, it’s interesting to know that the tradition of Valentine’s Day has vestiges that date back centuries before Christ and takes on various forms all over the world. While the notion of expressing one’s love on Valentine’s Day is basically the same, different countries have their own traditions for this beloved holiday.
Italy has a long history when it comes to Valentine’s Day traditions, celebrating it as a Spring Festival. Couples would spend the day surrounded by the beauty of springtime in natural settings like tree arbors or ornamental gardens. Their time was spent listening to music, reading poetry or strolling through the garden.
Another tradition in Italy’s Valentine’s Day history was the notion that the first man a girl sees on Valentine’s Day would be the man (or look like the man) she would marry within a year. Unmarried girls would wake up extra early to sit by their window to look for men who walked by.
While the candy tradition in the United States usually consists of some sort of heart-shaped box of assorted candies, the traditional candy gift for Valentine’s Day in Italy is a chocolate-covered hazelnut called a Baci Perugina. The candy is accompanied with a small piece of paper that contains romantic poems in four different languages.
Although the traditional Valentine’s Day is celebrated on Feb. 14, South Korea celebrates similar days of love on the 14th of every month. Each monthly celebration has its own significance and traditions depending on the corresponding holiday.
The actual Valentine’s Day holiday tradition is meant for only women to be the givers of chocolate to their significant other and the following month it’s the men’s turn. March 14 is named White Day and men are meant to give their female counterpart a non-chocolate candy. April 14 is marked as Black Day and is geared towards those who are not in a relationship. The tradition for Black Day is for single people to mourn their single lives, hence the name of the holiday. Single people are supposed to eat jajangmyeon noodles, which are black in color, on April 14. While the tradition of women giving chocolate to their partners on Valentine’s Day is a widespread tradition in Eastern Asian countries, South Korea takes the tradition a step further than other countries with a bigger amount of chocolate given.
Britain and Italy have a few similarities in their Valentine’s Day traditions: Both had similar stories about how the first man a woman saw on Valentine’s Day morning will be the one they will marry. However, Britain also has traditions all its own.
While many countries' citizens deliver handwritten notes and poems to their significant others on Valentine’s Day, paper Valentine’s were so popular in England during the 19th Century that they gave way to the production of mass-produced greeting cards we see today. In earlier times, a tradition for women the night before Valentine’s Day was to secure four bay leaves to each corner of their pillow before sleeping and to eat hard boiled eggs with salt while removing the yokes. This tradition was meant to provoke dreams of their future husbands on Valentine’s Day eve. Women would also write names on pieces of paper wrapped in clay balls to be dropped into water and the ball that rose to the surface first would be their future husband.
People of Denmark referred to Valentine’s Day cards as “lover’s cards” and they were once made from transparent material that reflected a picture of a lover bestowing a gift to his or her significant other when it was held up to the light. Instead of the red roses many Americans associate with Valentine’s Day, Danish people give white flowers that they call “snowdrops.” People used to give pressed white flowers to their Valentines, but these days they have switched to bouquets. While love poems and romantic notes are given on Valentine’s Day, the Danish people also write unsigned, funny poems on neatly cut paper called “gaekkebrev.” If the girl is able to guess who sent it, she will receive an Easter Egg later in the year. Denmark takes its Valentine’s Day holiday pretty seriously and many people tend to take off work or book parties to celebrate this love-filled holiday.
France is often referred to as the most romantic place in the world but the country's older Valentine’s Day traditions are anything but lovey-dovey. In the past, the French custom called “drawing for” or "a lottery of love" would gather single people in houses facing opposite one another and make them call out the name of their hopeful partner through the window. Women who were jilted by their hopeful Valentine would gather to burn the images of the ungrateful lovers in huge bonfires. The bonfire events would turn pretty ugly, with women yelling and hurling abuses into the fire. Because the ritual would turn into an ugly event filled with ridicule, the French government eventually banned this practice. The St. Valentin Village located in Indre has held a festival since the 1960s to celebrate Valentine’s Day every year from February 12th to the 14th.
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Sara Lugardo is a Korean American who thrives in writing about Asian community news in Chicago. She has a Bachelor's in Communication and is currently working on her Master's. Her work can be found on Examiner.com.
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