Walk through the aisles of any store and the rows have magically turned into hues of red and pink. Chocolate and roses are suggested as compliments to the rosy undertones as a gift for a loved one. Valentine’s Day has become a strong part of United States’ culture. On campus, the holiday takes many forms, from crafting cards and mason jars in reds, pinks and whites for Free Art Friday at the Union to restaurants offering couple’s specials and evenings of romance.
The exact origins of the holiday can get a little dark, with a stoning festival in Rome, Catholic martyrs being executed and other sorts of grim origins. In recent history, the origins of the holiday in the United States can be traced back to 1913 when the Hallmark greeting card company first offered Valentine’s Day cards.
American culture is not the only one which marks February 14th. The holiday has variations in Dutch, Korean, South African, French, Italian and Japanese cultures. Many other countries and cultures have adopted their own interpretations of celebrations for the day of love, some, like Brazil’s Lover’s Day in June, celebrate a similar holiday at a different point during the year.
It’s customary in Estonia and Finland to celebrate the February holiday as “Friendship Day” with a celebration for the love between friends as opposed to a recognition of romantic love.
In Denmark, the holiday is marked by exchanging snowdrops, or white pressed flowers, with friends, family and loved ones. They also can exchange lover’s cards, which are similar to the greeting cards shared in the United States, but originated as a picture of the pair gift giving on the card. It is also a tradition called “gaekkebrev,” where funny and joking letters are written to someone with a signature comprised of dots cut out into the card, almost like a coffee filter snowflake in the United States. If the receiver of the card guesses the sender correctly, they are entitled to an Easter Egg later during the year.
Korean tradition beckons women to lead the holiday in February, as they treat their partner with chocolates, candies and other treats only to be showered with affection a month later on March 14 for White’s Day.
Japanenese culture mirrors a similar gender and timeline exchange, but the gift giving extends to coworkers, friends and family with specific types of chocolate for each different relationship. There’s giri-choco which is for acquaintances and colleagues, aptly named obligatory chocolate and Jibun choco, which is a present for yourself (because who doesn’t deserve a little chocolate). However, Honmei-choco is often made by hand at home by women to give to their partner’s because it’s the “real thing.”
In South Africa, women celebrate the holiday by literally wearing their hearts on their sleeves. It is a tradition in the Zulu country to pin little hearts with the names of loved ones on the sleeves of clothing.
The French exchange cards with loved ones as well, but also has a more dramatic history with the “Loterie d’Amour,” or “Drawing for Love.” The now government-banned event was a grand affair where men and women, divided by gender, would gather in two opposing houses and call out to one another to pair up. If a man didn’t like the woman he was paired with, he could leave her for another woman. At the end of the night, the remaining single women would have a bonfire where they burned pictures of the men who had abandoned and wronged them, while swearing at and insulting men. The French banned the tradition because of the chaos that the bonfire instigated. These days, some French celebrate a sweet tradition of a pilgrimage to the St. Valentin village, where there are celebrations, events and ceremonies dedicated to Valentine’s Day and St. Valentine.
Don’t have a sweetheart this year? Make a new friend and celebrate a new tradition from a different culture.
Story by Jen Wagman, Language Institute