Well friends, it’s February now, and you know what that means. Love is in the air, and greeting card companies can basically sit back and watch the money roll in. That’s right: Valentine’s Day is upon us.
Many know that St. Valentine was a martyr who died brutally for illegally marrying young couples, but evidence points to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Parlement of Foules (or “Parliament of Fowls” - a classic poem about birds, lovers and even some choice quotes from Cicero) as the first time in history Valentine’s Day is suggested as a day to celebrate love.
“The life so brief, the art so long in the learning, the attempt so hard, the conquest so sharp, the fearful joy that ever slips away so quickly – by all this, I mean love, which so sorely astounds my feelings with its wondrous operation, that when I think upon it, I scarce know whether I wake or sleep.” - Chaucer, Parlement of Foules.
But not all countries celebrate Valentine’s Day
It’s worth noting that in some countries (such as Malaysia, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia) celebrating Valentine’s Day is illegal. However, most countries of the world do celebrate Valentine’s Day, and often, in much the same way. Flowers, candy, gifts and cards are exchanged by couples, friends and school children alike, and every store is chock-full of pink and red everything. But many countries have their own special days honoring romantic love, and their own beautiful (and at times, downright wacky) traditions surrounding them.
Although modern-day Parisians celebrates Valentine’s Day with cards and flowers, long ago Parisians held the tradition of Loterie d’Amour (Drawing for Love), in which men and women seeking a mate would gather in houses facing each other and take turns calling out the windows. Potential couples could meet up on the street to talk. If unsatisfied with the match, a man could simply try again, however the spurned women would gather afterward at a bonfire to burn pictures of the nay-saying males, and loudly curse men in general.
In Wales, love is celebrated on January 25, honoring not St. Valentine, but St. Dwynwen, the Welsh patron saint of lovers. Welsh couples show their mutual affection by exchanging “love spoons” carved from wood with symbolic images and shapes including horse shoes (luck), wheels (support) and keys (symbolizing the keys to a man’s heart).
Japan’s Valentine traditions are very unique. On Valentine’s Day, it is the custom for just the women to give gifts just to the men, and just one gift will do: chocolate. Japanese women will give two types of delicious chocolate gifts: “Giri-choco” for male coworkers and friends, and “Honmei-choco” for boyfriends or husbands. The men reply with chocolate gifts for the women on March 14 which is known as “White Day” (this refers to the white chocolate many choose to give).
In South Africa, Valentine’s Day is celebrated with the giving of flowers and other tokens of love, but they also literally wear their heart on their sleeve by upholding the ancient Roman tradition of Lupercalia. Single women wear hearts that bear the name of whichever man they secretly admire sewn or pinned right on the sleeves of their shirt.
In the Philippines, one surprising trend has become extremely popular in recent years: mass weddings. Huge groups of couples gather at malls and city halls in the hundreds (some events boasting over a thousand) to get married or renew their vows all at once right on Valentine’s Day.
Valentine’s Day is huge in Singapore, full of weeks of events, carnivals, fashion shows and music festivals. One old tradition Singaporeans still observe happens on the 15th night of the celebration, where single girls gather in the dark by the banks of the Singapore River, and throw Mandarin oranges right into the water, believing this will send them true love.
This year, whether you’re single or in a committed relationship, spread the Valentine spirit of love and friendship in your own way. Take your mom out for coffee. Give your neighbor a potted plant, or just let them know you appreciate them. Call an old friend, or send them an actual letter in the mail. Play a board game with your kids and let time slip away. The only requirement: letting the people in your life know they’re important to you. With or without the cheesy red and pink stuff.