It’s nearly that time of year again, when love-struck couples celebrate their love by exchanging flowers and surprising each other. Because 14th February is Valentine’s Day, and once again that means loved-up couples wherever you look. But where do our Valentine’s Day customs come from, when did people start celebrating it, and above all, how is it celebrated? We decided to take a closer look at this special day and found very distinct traditions in different countries.
Valentine’s Day – when and how did it come about?
Valentine’s Day goes back to Saint Valentine of Terni. At least that’s the story commonly told to explain where the Valentines tradition actually comes from. There is some debate about whether he was a Roman priest or the Bishop of Terni. He was probably born around 175 AD and was bishop. At some point he was then called to Rome, where he is said to have healed a disabled boy. However, because he spread the Christian faith, he was arrested by Emperor Aurelian and beheaded on 14th February 269 AD. It is also said that he married soldiers during his ministry and gave them flowers –despite this being forbidden. Some sources also mention two martyrs by the name of Valentine, whose stories merge into one another.
Why do we celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Valentine’s Day has not been celebrated continuously since 269 AD, however. It was only in the 15th century that lovers began to exchange small gifts or recite poems to each other. They celebrated ‘Lovers’ Day’ on 14th February. At some point, people then began giving each other flowers on Valentine’s Day as a sign of affection. This custom gradually spread all over the world.
The significance of Valentine’s Day in different countries
It wasn’t until after the Second World War that the custom spread to Germany, however. In 1950, American soldiers stationed in Germany threw a Valentine’s Ball in Nuremberg, and so began the tradition of Valentine’s Day in Germany. Since the Valentine’s Ball in 1950, over the years 14th February has become an increasingly important day for all lovers and couples in Germany. The gift of choice on Valentine’s Day in Germany is flowers – and more flowers are given on this day than on any other day of the year.
As the Valentine’s Day tradition originated in 15th-century England, it is here that the day is probably best known. Today, restaurants in England are all fully booked weeks in advance and on 14th February itself there are stalls selling flowers wherever you look, so you’ll always be able to find something to give your sweetheart.
Valentine’s Day is probably celebrated a little more in America than in England. Although children start out making Valentine’s cards at school for their parents, by the time they’re in high school they’re sending declarations of love to their crush. Restaurants have special Valentine’s menus, and people give cards and gifts to friends and relatives as well as to their sweethearts.
In Japan there are essentially two days when women and men give each other presents. One is 14th February, when women give dark chocolate to men, and on 14th March they get white chocolate back. In Japan, 14th March is therefore also known as White Day. This exchange of gifts isn’t limited to couples, however – in Japan you can give chocolate to friends, family and even your boss.
South Korea also celebrates these two days – Valentine’s Day and White Day. But it also has a third day when people give out gifts. Known as Black Day, 14th April is when people give presents to all those who came away empty-handed from Valentine’s Day and White Day to cheer them up.
South Africa turns red and white on Valentine’s Day. People don’t exchange flowers or gifts, but there are big celebrations and people dress in red and white all over.
People in Italy often drive to bridges on Valentine’s Day and attach a padlock bearing the initials of themselves and their partner.
In South America, the day of love has been moved to 12th June. Known as the ‘Dia dos Namorodaos’, it is a day when people generally meet for dinner with their family. It is common for couples to announce their engagement on this day.
There is a completely separate tradition in China, although they also have a day that celebrates love. Here lovers exchange gifts and cherish each other on 7th July rather than 14th February. The festival Qixi is celebrated on 7th July in China. Yet this celebration is not based on Bishop Valentine, but on a cowherd and his undying love for a weaver.
It may be hard to imagine, but there are even countries where Valentine’s Day has been banned. In Saudi Arabia, for example, the celebration of 14th February as the festival of love is prohibited under Islamic law.
Thailand is another country where declarations of love are not allowed on the day of love. Public displays of affection generally are even liable to prosecution here.
Now that you know where the custom comes from, what it means and how it is celebrated – in most countries – would you like to treat your partner? In our next article, we reveal what you can do to give your sweetheart a very special gift ❤