This post was last updated on March 17th, 2016
Love it or hate it, Valentine’s Day is right around the corner.
We don’t particularly enjoy all the commercialism that surrounds the holiday, but we do love any excuse to celebrate. So if it means getting dolled up, eating scrumptious food and sipping on good wine… well, we can handle that.
Last year we celebrated Valentine’s Day in Taiwan. Taiwanese celebrate February 14th with fanfare—teddy bears, glittery flowers, and decorations. Stores often have Valentine’s Day discounts. Taipei 101 even lights up with cute hearts. But in addition to the Western date, Taiwanese also celebrate traditional Chinese Valentines Day on the 7th day of the 7th month of the lunar calendar. Honestly we never knew much about this other Valentine’s Day, and from a foreigner’s eye, it certainly didn’t receive as much attention as its Western counterpart.
But it got us thinking. How do other countries celebrate Valentine’s Day around the world?
We set out to the handy dandy Internet to see what we could find. Perhaps not surprisingly, we discovered that many countries celebrate Valentine’s Day with roses and chocolates and perhaps a dinner date; many cultures have embraced the Western influence. Other cultures protest the holiday, some even going so far as to set fire to Valentine’s Day merchandise. And finally, some cultures have looked for a way to make the holiday more their own, finding a bit of balance.
Before we set off, we want to be clear that we haven’t experienced any of these celebrations firsthand; the information was sourced from around the web (you can find the original sources with the festival it describes). We say that because we’re curious to know if people actually celebrate these ways. So if you’re from one of the countries listed below, be sure to tell us if you celebrate Valentine’s Day with said tradition!
14 Ways to Celebrate Valentine’s Day Around the World
In Argentina, February 14th is called ‘Dia de los enamorados’, and it’s not uncommon to see lovers celebrating the romantic day together. However, this isn’t the only day of the year dedicated to affection. Argentineans also celebrate ‘Sweetness Week’ or ‘Semana de la Dulzura’ from July 1-7th. This holiday was actually created by candy distributors who started the holiday as a marketing campaign, coining the slogan, “a treat for a kiss”. Now it’s a full-on holiday where Argentineans exchange candies for a kiss during the week!
Brazil stays quite busy during February what with Carnival and all, so it’s more likely to find Brazilians celebrating ‘Dia dos namorados’ on June 12th. The date is in connection with St. Anthony’s Day on June 13th, a Portuguese monk known as the ‘marriage saint’. Other than the difference in date, the holiday is largely celebrated like that of Valentine’s Day in North America with the exchange of chocolate, flowers and a romantic dinner. Additionally, some girls might write the names of three potential boyfriends on slips of paper to put under their pillow on the eve of the 12th. The next morning, the first paper they pull from their pillow will be the name of the lover they should pursue.
Chinese Valentine’s Day is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar calendar, and is based of the tale of the Cowherd and the Weaving Girl. Legend has it that the poor Cowherd and royal Weaving Girl fell in love and were married, but forced to separate, blocked from each other by the Milky Way. They were only allowed to reunite once a year on what is now known as Chinese Valentine’s Day. Some say it always rains on this day as the two lovers are crying at their reunion.
So this one is a bit ‘controversial’. When we were researching, we found multiple sources claiming the following:
In Denmark you might find people giving funny poems or love notes where the sender signs his or her message with dots, not a name. If the recipient can guess the sender’s name correctly, she receives an egg on Easter. However, if the recipient guesses incorrectly, they must give the egg to the sender when he/she has revealed themselves.
Additionally, Danes gift their friends and lovers with white flowers called ‘snowdrops’ on Valentine’s Day.
We wanted to do a bit of fact checking, so we consulted with our friends over at Nomadic Danes. When asked about the above tradition, they said that they had never even heard of it! So Celia set to facebook to ask her Danish friends their opinion and the overwhelming response was, “I don’t even celebrate Valentine’s Day because it’s just too corny.” Oh well.
‘Une loterie d’amour’ is an old French Valentine’s tradition, now actually banned because of its tendency to turn riotous. Translated as a ‘Drawing for Love’, single people would enter houses that faced opposite each other, calling out to one another through the windows until they eventually paired off. If the man wasn’t happy with his partner, he could leave his match for a new woman. The women left single would then rage over a therapeutic bonfire, burning images of the men who had left them. As you can imagine, a bunch of angry women around a bonfire can only cause trouble…
Some also believe that the Valentine’s Day card originated in France after Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent the first Valentine’s Day poem to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415.
In Germany it’s all about the giant heart-shaped gingerbread cookies. The love cookies are decorated with icing and love notes, and often come with ribbons attached so that lovers can drape the cookies across each other’s shoulders. Something similar to a sold sign to ward off prowling singles? These oversized cookies are tourist attractions sold at markets year-round, but they are particularly common on February 14th.
In recent years, young Ghanaians have come to embrace Valentine’s Day. Not everyone is happy about it, but many radio stations have decided to promote the holiday by hosting contests and giveaways, some stations spending more than $20,000 on promotions. This year, one radio station is even offering an all-expenses paid mass wedding for couples ready to tie the knot on Valentine’s Day.
In an attempt to make the holiday more Ghananian and less Western, the tourism ministry has begun calling the holiday “Chocolate Day”, urging couples to purchase locally produced chocolate for their lovers. For a country that’s one of the largest cocoa producers in the world, it’s certainly not a bad idea.
Valentine’s Day is certainly not embraced by all of Iraq, but Iraqi Kurds have developed their own tradition of a ‘feast of love’. Stemming from the biblical story of Adam and Eve, Iraqi Kurds decorate red apples with cloves to bring prosperity and love.
Verona, Italy. It’s the mythical home of Romeo and Juliet, known around the world as ‘the city of love’. Every year Verona endorses its romantic reputation during Valentine’s Day with the Verona in Love Festival. It’s five days of exhibitions, concerts and shows, which—according to the event webpage—promise ‘true moments of love’.
In Japan, Valentine’s Day pressure isn’t placed upon the men, but the women who shell out money on chocolate. Not only do they gift their significant others with the sugary confections, but also their friends and co-workers. Many women will spend over $100 on chocolate gifts, some even going so far as to get 3D scans of themselves to create chocolate face molds. All the hard work for the women does pay off a month later on March 14th when the men buy gifts for the women who gave them chocolate.
11. The Philippines
In the Philippines you can forget about that candle lit dinner for 2. It’s all about celebrating Valentine’s Day with a huge group of other people. February 14th is now one of the most popular wedding days with mass groups of couples saying ‘I do’ at the same time. Quite fittingly, 2,013 couples tied the knot together in 2013. The weddings are often free, hosted by the government.
But that’s not the only group love session. ‘Lip locks’ have also gained popularity as Filipinos gather together to compete for the world record of ‘people lip locking simultaneously’. Quite humorously, this brainchild was the marketing campaign of a toothpaste company.
Portuguese celebrate Valentine’s Day similarly to those in the U.S., but the gifts are a bit more elaborate than chocolate and flowers. Rather, women receive baskets filled with gourmet food, cheese, wine, and chocolates; the men receive baskets of aged liquors. So… I’m thinking next Valentine’s Day in Lisbon. Anyone with me?
13. South Korea
South Koreans celebrate Valentine’s Day similar to that of the Japanese, except for they take it a step farther by celebrating the 14th day of every single month. A few of the highlights include the 14th of April, dedicated to singles; the 14th of June, kiss day; the 14th of August, dedicated to drinking soju, a strong alcoholic beverage, followed by a romantic walk (or stumble) in the park; and the 14th of December, hug day.
For a complete list of the 14th days of the month, see here.
On the 25th of January, many Welsh celebrate St Dwynwen’s Day, the Welsh patron saint of lovers. Legend has it that Dwynwen was a 5th century royal who fell in love with a young prince called Maelon. Of course, the father forbade the marriage, so Maelon attacked Dwynwen only to be turned to ice by an angel. Dwynwen longingly prayed that Maelon would return to life; in exchange she devoted herself to God.
Some Welsh ask Dwynwen for blessings upon their relationships while others pop the big question next to the ruins of her church.
Additionally, a centuries old tradition in Wales is to gift your lovers with hand-carved wooden spoons, featuring symbols such as Celtic knots, keys, or hearts. Today it is possible to buy Welsh love spoons at all times of the year, for all occasions.
So if you still haven’t made any Valentine’s Day plans for this year, now you have a bit of last-minute inspiration from around the world to spark your creativity!
But again, we want to hear from you! What are you doing this year for Valentine’s Day? Have you heard—or celebrated—any of the above traditions? Have another tradition to add to the list?
And don’t forget, if you’re from one of the countries listed above, tell us your opinion on the celebration we listed!