While we still don’t know the exact origin of Valentine’s Day in America, we do know that this holiday of love is related to one of at least three Saint Valentines! Now you might be wondering which Saint Valentine? That, my fellow travelers, still remains unknown. One legend says that Valentine was a priest back in the times of the Roman Empire who continued to perform marriages even after they were outlawed by Emperor Claudius II (he thought that single men made better soldiers). Claudius ordered to have Valentine killed after he learned about the priest apparently jeopardizing the strength of his army.
Valentine’s Day has since been celebrated in the U.S. for over 300 years and is known around the world as a celebration of love and romance. While Valentine’s Day is mainly an American holiday, people around the globe commemorate love (both romantic and friendship) with a variety of local holidays and rituals. Check out how seven countries around the world celebrate love and friendship.
1. White Day (South Korea)
Valentine’s Day is a popular holiday for young couples in China and Japan, but the South Koreans take it to the next level. On February 14th, it’s up to the women to woo their men with chocolates, candies, and flowers. One month later the tables turn and on March 14th, also known as White Day, men not only dote upon their sweethearts with the usual chocolates and flowers, but also up their game with a gift! But what about the single folks, you ask? Well, there is a third holiday known as Black Day where it’s customary for singles to mourn their singleness by eating bowls of jajangmyeon (black bean-paste noodles). Being single sounds pretty tasty to me!
2. Gaekkebrev (Denmark)
Just when you thought nothing could beat a good old-fashioned Valentine’s Day card, think again. In Denmark it’s customary to send loved ones little pressed white flowers called “snowdrops” (cute, right?). Even better than these little flowers is the tradition of gaekkebrev (basically, “joking letters”), which are funny poems or rhymes that are written on a intricately cut paper and signed only with anonymous dots (one for each letter of their name). If you can guess who the sender’s identity, then the sender owes you an Easter egg on Easter Sunday (yippee!). If you can’t figure it out within three guesses, well then guess who owes their secret admirer an egg!
3. St. Dwynwen’s Day (Wales)
You won’t find anyone in Wales celebrating Saint Valentine this month, but on January 25th there is a different holiday devoted to love. The Welsh celebrate Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers, who fell in love with a man she couldn’t marry because she was already engaged. After three of Dwynwen’s wishes were answered, she devoted herself to God. To this day, the ruins of her church still stand on Llanddwyn Island, off the coast of North Wales. In celebration of St. Dwynwen’s Day, some couples make a pilgrimage to the church, though it is more common to give a traditional Welsh love spoon as a token of endearment. These little intricately carved spoons have symbols carved into them, such as horseshoes, which stand for good luck; wheels, which symbolize support; and keys, which symbolize the keys to a man’s heart. Add that to the list of souvenirs to bring home from Wales for sure!
4. St. Gregory’s Day (Slovenia)
Just like a scene out of “Bambi,” March 12th is the official start of spring and all things related to love for Slovenians. There is even a popular Slovenian saying that birds get married on what’s also called Gregorjevo (here I picture something more out of “Cinderella”). A long-standing tradition from this day is to give heart-shaped honey cookies to loved ones (please note that bird decor is also a prominent requirement).
5. Lantern Festival (China)
6. St. Jordi’s Day (Spain)
Those of you who have travelled to Barcelona and the Catalonia region probably know about the popular tale of Saint George and the dragon. Saint Jordi’s Day, (also known as Saint George’s Day), dates back to Roman times, when Saint Jordi was believed to have been a Roman soldier who became a Christian martyr. The actual reasons behind the day are still up for debate, but over time his story turned into the familiar tale that we know about a hero who slayed a dragon in order to save a princess. On April 23rd, people celebrate St. Jordi’s Day by keeping with the tradition of men giving women roses, but more recently, women giving men books for an added element of twist (I am definitely a fan!).
7. Hearts on Sleeves (South Africa)
When February the 14th rolls around, South African women literally wear their hearts on their sleeves. It’s thought that the South Africans took this practice from an ancient Roman festival called Lupercalia that is thought to be a predecessor to Valentine’s Day. In one type of ceremony, the names of girls were placed in a box that boys would choose one name from and then that couple would be paired until the next Lupercalia. So if anyone wants to join me down in Cape Town this Valentine’s Day, be sure to keep your eyes peeled for women with the names of their sweethearts pinned to their sleeves!