It’s only a few hours till the celebrations for V-Day begin in earnest, and the love fueled frenzy of chocolates, flowers and romance starts. But did you know that in Japan, the day of love is celebrated on two different dates – on February 14th and again a month later? Or that originally, the festival spawned nasty (and quite frankly, malicious) customs in France? As people all over the globe gear up to celebrate Valentine’s Day 2015, we tell you about the various sweet (and at times strange) V-day courtship traditions of the world!
In the United States, the tradition of giving out love cards known as “Valentines” has long survived. Even today, school kids are encouraged to bring cards (handmade or otherwise) for their classmates in celebration of the festival.
The poets of Britain have probably penned the majority of the best-loved romantic verses associated with Saint Valentine. One uniform custom is the singing of special songs by children, who then receive gifts of candy, fruit or money. In some areas, valentine buns are baked with caraway seeds, plums or raisins.
In Denmark, a valentine card is known as a “lover’s card.” Older versions of this greeting came in the form of a transparency which, when held up to the light, depicted the image of a lover handing his beloved a gift. One custom in Denmark is for people to send pressed white flowers called Snowdrops to their friends. Danish men may also send a form of valentine known as a gaekkebrev (or “joking letter”). The sender of this gaekkebrev pens a rhyme but does not sign his name. Instead, he signs the message with dots…one dot for each letter in his name. If the lady who receives the card guesses the name of the sender, then she is rewarded with an Easter Egg later in the year.
In France, a custom known as “drawing for” once occurred for Valentine’s Day, until it was banned by the government for being too mean. Unmarried individuals would go into houses facing each other and begin calling out across from one window to another, pairing-off with the chosen partner. If the young man failed to be enthralled with his valentine, he would dump her. As a result, a bonfire would be lit later where the ladies could burn images of the SOB and verbally abuse him in a loud tone. This ritual was eventually abandoned since it left much room for nastiness, ridicule or even outright malice.
In Japan, Valentine’s Day is celebrated on two different dates…February 14 and March 14. On the first date, the female gives a gift to the male and on the second date…known as White Day and supposedly introduced by a marshmallow company in the 1960s…the male has to return the gift he received on February 14! V-day customs in Korea are quite similar to the ones in Japan.
Our favorite V-day customs are the ones in Taiwan and Scotland!
In Scotland, Valentine’s Day is celebrated with a festival. At this festival, there is an equal number of unmarried males and females, the men write their name (or a made-up name) on a piece of paper which is then folded and placed into a hat. The females then draw a name from the hat and that’s how they partner up. The females would then pin the name of their partner over their hearts or on their sleeves. A dance often follows and, at the end of the festival, it is not unusual for marriages to take place. According to another Scottish custom, the first young man or woman encountered by chance on the street or elsewhere will become that individual’s valentine. Valentine’s Day gifts in Scotland are frequently given by both parties in the form of a love-token or true-love-knot.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated in Taiwan on February 14, but there is also a special Valentine’s Day on July 7 of the lunar calendar, based on an ancient Chinese folktale. According to Taiwan tradition, the color and number of the roses holds much significance. For example, one red rose means “an only love,” eleven roses means “a favorite,” ninety-nine roses means “forever,” and one hundred eight roses means “marry me.”