Valentine’s Day in America brings roses and candy quickly to mind. We exchange the typical pink and red cards with friends and plan candlelit dinners with loved ones. And with the flood of couples announcing their engagements on Instagram with an excited #SheSaidYes, it’s hard to imagine a time or a place where taking part in the holiday looks any different.
Valentine’s Day didn’t start out as a day full of lovey-dovey sentiments. In fact, many historians agree that its origins are less than civil. Ancient Romans celebrated a fertility festival in mid-February called Lupercalia. After some ritual sacrifices were offered up to the gods, men would dress up as goats and run around the city with strips of leather, slapping women who hoped to have a fertile year. When the Roman Empire was Christianized, many of the old festivals were replaced by Catholic holy and saint days. Lupercalia was eventually substituted with St. Valentine’s Day to honor the Roman priest who, legend has it, performed illegal marriages for soldiers. Over the centuries, the legend of St. Valentine was spread all over the world, and each culture put its own spin on the romantic traditions that came with it.
Take a romantic tour with us around the world as we discover four unique Valentine’s Day traditions. Perhaps you will be inspired to think beyond your own culture and add a new tradition to make this year the most romantic yet!
Valentine’s Day in Germany
In Germany, Valentine’s Day is not for children. You won’t see any cheerfully cut-out red hearts or candy exchanges in classrooms. Because on this day, romance is a topic that is reserved for adults. You will likely see many of the same gifts in German stores that you might find available in America. Boxed chocolates, roses, even jewelry are all acceptable tokens of love in German relationships, but this is where the similarities end. Not only do German couples gift each other with pigs to symbolize luck and desire, but they often share heart-shaped ginger cookies decorated with sentiments of love like “ich liebe dich”. However, because of the nature of the holiday, it is not uncommon to see some of these cookies take a more direct (and occasionally explicit) approach at communicating the giver’s true intentions.
Valentine’s Day in South Korea
South Koreans have a series of Valentine’s related traditions that progress through the calendar. The 14th of each month of the year is reserved as a “love day”. On Valentine’s Day, February 14th, women give chocolates to men as a sign of love and affection. The favor is returned on White Day, March 14th, when men shower their beloved with lighter-colored treats, like white chocolate. Tradition suggests that men spend roughly three times as much on their gift as was spent on the one given to them.
Black Day follows on April 14th, when singles dress in black and share a meal of black noodles called Jjajyangmyeon. But those who take part in Black Day won’t stay depressed for long. Spring time in South Korea is beautiful and fair weathered. And there are plenty of new opportunities to go out and find a date just in time for Rose Day in May.
Valentine’s Day in Ghana
Ghana is one of the world’s leading growers of cocoa beans. So, it makes perfect sense that on February 14th Ghanaians celebrate Chocolate Day in place of Valentine’s Day. In 2007, the government decided to make the most of the holiday by encouraging citizens to buy domestically produced treats, and declared it National Chocolate Day. Churches and schools endorsed this switch because it promoted a more platonic approach to the festivities, and soon giving and eating chocolate became the norm. Although romance is still one of the themes of the day, chocolate gifts are not just reserved for your Valentine. Giving sweets to your school friends, colleagues, and family is also part of the fun!
Valentine’s Day in Peru
Peru is in the midst of summertime and festive, pre-Lenten Carnival celebrations when February 14th rolls around. So their Valentine’s Day celebrations often take place outside. Couples may go for a long stroll together or out for a nice date and bring flowers for their beloved. Orchids take precedence over long stem roses, which puts a distinctly Peruvian spin on the festivities. Because of the fine weather and romantic holiday, it is also the peak of wedding season. In fact, there are so many weddings planned for this time of year that there aren’t enough churches to hold them all! Many couples opt to take part in group weddings in order to fit their ceremony into the season.