Valentine’s Day is a time-honoured tradition dating back to 496 AD, and by the looks of it, it’s one that won’t be disappearing anytime soon. In North America, the tradition is an exchange of sentimental gifts over a romantic dinner, but various parts of the world have their own ways of celebrating the special day. Here’s a list of a few countries with their own unique Valentine’s Day traditions!
The Welsh are so unique in their Valentine’s Day tradition that they actually forgo the day for another celebration of love called St. Dwynwen’s Day, on January 25th. Dwynwen was a princess who lived in Anglesey, Wales in the fifth century. She became the patron saint of Welsh lovers due to her tragic love story with a young man named Maelon. The legends differ on what happened between them: one version says that he raped her and she then prayed for assistance while the second version states that she was forbidden to marry him by her family and prayed to forget her love for him. I think we can all agree that the latter is much more in the spirit of Valentine’s Day.
In any case, in both legends, Maelon is mysteriously transformed into a block of ice, though neither legend really explains how that solved anything. Regardless, with Maelon frozen as a block of ice, Dwynwen prays for three things: that Maelon be released, that she remain unmarried and that, through her, God would look after all true lovers. Once again, the legends don’t extrapolate on the necessity of her remaining unmarried but one can surmise that due to her last lover becoming a block of ice, it may have been a safeguard for the men of Wales at the time. Soon after, Dwynwen retreats to Llanddwyn Island off the west coast of Anglesey to become a hermit, although she now lives on as the patron saint of lovers.
The gifts exchanged on St. Dwynwen’s Day are the usual thoroughfare seen in North America, but with one rather strange exception: love spoons. This tradition originated hundreds of years ago with young men carving intricately detailed wooden spoons to court the girl they were interested in. If she accepted the gift, it meant that she was interested and courtship would commence. Some of the oldest love spoons can be seen in museums in Cardiff, Wales, dating back to 1667. Common symbols include the celtic knot to represent eternal love, the twisted stem to represent two lovers coming together and of course, the universal symbol of love, the heart.
The Japanese flip gender roles on Valentine’s Day. In North America, women are usually the ones plied with chocolates and flowers, but in Japan, it’s the women doing the plying. Japanese women are expected to give chocolate gifts, not only to their lovers, but also their male friends. However, one has to be careful about what type of chocolate is given.
“Giri choco”, which translates to obligatory chocolate, is given by women to all their male friends and/or colleagues. This can get expensive with women often buying and distributing around twenty boxes of Giri choco. Honmei choco is reserved for lovers or potential lovers and is often accompanied by another gift. However, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine for the men, because one month later on March 14th, they have to return the favour by giving gifts to the women. This day is known as White Day and gift ideas include white chocolate or marshmallows.
In Denmark, one does not send a Valentine’s Day card but rather, a “lover’s card”. The cards are named as such because originally, they were transparent cards which, when held to the light, revealed an image of a lover giving a beautiful gift to his beloved. For those platonic celebrants of the day of love, it is traditional to send one another white snowdrop flowers. Additionally, the Danes have a tradition of giving a gaekkebrev, which is a funny, rhyming poem. The author of the poem does not sign the poem with his name, but rather with dots that represent his name. If the woman can guess who sent the poem, she gets… an Easter egg. No one ever said traditions had to make sense.
Didn’t get as lucky as you hoped to on Valentine’s Day? Don’t worry, because if you’re in Israel, you get a second chance! This second day occurs somewhere in late August during Tu B’Av, The Festival of Love. While it may not have earned official status as a holiday, the Israelites still celebrate it with much singing and dancing and well… you can imagine what else.
Like the Welsh, the Brazilians have their own day of love on June 12th. Called the Dia dos Namorados, the date was chosen because it occurs just before St. Anthony’s Day. St. Anthony is the patron saint of marriages. The day is celebrated in true Brazilian fashion with festivals, dancing and lavish parties and events.
On Valentine’s Day, Mexican men show their affection for the women in their lives by showing up at the home of their lover with a mariachi band or a trio of singers who serenade the girl with two or three romantic songs while standing beneath her window. John Hughes would be proud.
The Chinese also celebrate Valentine’s Day on a different day called The Night of Sevens. It occurs on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month when the stars Altair and Vega are high in the night sky. The day is celebrated based on the love story of the seventh daughter of the Heaven Goddess and a farmer. There are many variations of the myth but the ending is always the same: the Goddess of Heaven separates the young lovers, Altair the seventh daughter and Vega the farmer, forever, forming the Milky Way.
On the seventh night in the seventh lunar month, the Goddess of Heaven forms a bridge between Altair and Vega so the lovers may be together for a single night. On this day, young couples visit the Matchmaker’s Temple where they pray for their love and potential marriage. It is also tradition for Chinese girls to pray to the Weaving Maid to improve their handcrafting skill and prepare them for marriage. These girls take their weaving needle and try to float it on water. Success means that they are ready for marriage.
Valentine’s Day is a fun day to commemorate the one you love, romantically or platonically. If you find yourself bored by Valentine’s Day or stuck trying to impress your sweetheart, take some inspiration from these cultures. Who knows, maybe a wooden spoon will be the key to the heart of that elusive girl or guy in your Calculus class!