Valentine’s Day Traditions Around The World

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Associated with love and romance, the origins of St. Valentine’s Day stretch all the way back to Ancient Rome. While there is no certainty of truth, there are several legends about Valentine, a Christian priest living in Rome in approximately 270 AD.

One version of his legend states that Valentine defied the orders of Emperor Claudius II not to allow soldiers to marry, as Claudius felt that prevented soldiers from leaving their families to fight in the many wars of Rome. Valentine secretly performed marriages, and was discovered and put to death on February 14.

Another version says that while in prison, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter, and sent her a letter signed “From your Valentine”. Yet another story claims Valentine was killed as he helped Christians escape from a Roman prison, where they were being tortured.

Whatever the truth may be, Valentine became a saint after his death, and Pope Gelasius named February 14 his saint’s day around 500 AD. While Valentine’s Day celebrations take place around the world, traditions vary from country to country, even down to the date. There is little religious significance attached to the day as celebrated in modern times, and people of many different religions and cultures celebrate the festival.

The North American tradition of celebrating Valentine’s Day with cards, hearts, flowers and candy has spread throughout much of the world, but different cultures have retained their own interpretations of the holiday.

North America

  • Valentine’s Day is widely observed on February 14 in the US and Canada, and is traditionally celebrated with gifts of flowers, chocolate and cards. It is the second busiest day of the year for restaurants, behind Mother’s Day, and the second largest holiday for greeting card delivery, after Christmas.
  • Children join in on Valentine’s celebrations with school parties, candy and cards for friends and classmates. (For more information on how to throw a children’s Valentine’s Day party, see Valentine’s Day Party Ideas For Kids.)
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South America

  • Guatemala celebrates Dia del Amor y la Amistad, meaning Day of Love and Friendship. People show appreciation to friends, along with traditions similar to the United States.
  • Brazil celebrates the “Day of the Enamored” on June 12, with gifts exchanged between sweethearts.
  • In much of South America, the Amigo Secreto (secret friend) celebration combines with more traditional Valentine’s activities on February 14. Amigo Secreto involves giving anonymous gifts to friends, similar to a “Secret Santa” exchange.

Europe

  • Wales has Dydd Santes Dwynwen on January 25, commemorating Saint Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers.
  • In England, children sing Valentine’s Day songs, and receive candy, fruit or money in reward. Romantic poems are very popular, and widely published in magazines and newspapers in preparation of the holiday.
  • Tradition says that Valentine’s Day cards originated in France in 1415, when Charles, Duke of Orleans, lost to the British in the Battle of Agincourt, and wrote a love poem to his wife from his prison in the Tower of London.
  • At one time in Italy, the belief was that the first man an unmarried girl saw on Valentine’s Day, or someone who looked like him, would be the man she married. Unmarried girls would wake early, and look out the window to spot a man passing by.
  • White flowers show love and friendship in Denmark, along with cards, love poems and gifts.
  • Romania has a traditional holiday for lovers on February 24 called Dragobete.
  • Sevgililer Gunu is Sweetheart’s Day in Turkey.
  • Slovenia observes Valentine’s Day as the start of spring growth for plants and flowers, and so the day to begin agricultural activity.

Asia

  • In Japan, women give chocolates to men on Valentine’s Day, and on “White Day”, March 14, men return the favor. Floral decorations fill the home to reflect joy and happiness.
  • India has recently started observing Valentine’s Day with couples exchanging gifts and cards.
  • In China, Qi Qiao Jie, the Seven Sisters Festival, is a day devoted to love and is celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month in the Chinese calendar.
  • South Korea celebrates Pepero Day on November 11, with couples traditionally exchanging chocolate cookies, or other romantic gifts.
  • Taiwan has Valentine’s Day on February 14, and then celebrates again on July 7.
  • Though Saudi Arabia bans observation of Valentine’s Day, roses and Valentine’s cards flood the black market.
  • Tu B’Av in Israel corresponds to late August in the common calendar, and is similar to Valentine’s Day, with romantic dates, weddings and expressions of love.

Africa

  • Valentine’s Day is not widely celebrated in Africa but in South Africa preparations start well in advance of February 14 with flowers, symbols of romance and love, and lengthy parties. Traditionally, girls pin the name of their sweetheart on their sleeve, and in recent times, boys have started doing this as well.

Australia

  • Enthusiastically celebrated in Australia, Valentine’s Day is marked with gifts of flowers, cards, chocolate and other romantic presents. Unlike the United States, in Australia more men than women buy Valentine’s cards.

No matter where you live around the globe, love and romance have a time for celebration. Be sure to let your special someone know just how you feel on Valentine’s Day.

Last Updated: January 17, 2012
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About Michelle Ullman Michelle Ullman has lived and gardened in Southern California since childhood. A freelance writer, she covers topics ranging from gardening to home improvement to health issues. She also has experience as a catalog copywriter and poet. Michelle has trained and worked as a respiratory therapist and surgical technologist, but prefers to spend her time gardening, and walking with her dog. Michelle holds a Bachelor's Degree from Redlands University in Business Management. 

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