Valentine's Day Traditions Around the World

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Jill Kruidenier
February 11, 2014

Celebrating a holiday while abroad is often completely different from the way it is celebrated at homeand Valentine’s Day is no exception! IES Abroad students across the globe are learning of new Valentine’s Day customs, gifts, and even new holidays all together. These are just a few of the many global traditions celebrating love, lust, and singlehood.

Who is St. Valentinus Anyway?
The story goes that St. Valentinus was imprisoned for performing weddings for soldiers who were forbidden to marry. He was executed on February 14, 270 AD and is said to have sent a farewell note to his love that was signed ‘from your valentine.’ Yet, he is not the only saint which calls for celebratory days of love. In Wales, St. Dwynwen is celebrated as the Patron Saint of Lovers on January 25. And in Brazil, Dia dos Namorados (Lover’s Day) honors Saint Anthony on June 12. Slovenia also honors Saint Anthony on this day, and Saint Gregory on March 12 as the Day of Love.

On February 14, in Japan and South Korea, you’ll find women showering men with gifts and affection. Then a month later on March 14, in celebration of White Day, the men reciprocate their feelings by giving to women. In Taiwan, though, these traditions are swapped with men treating women on Valentine’s Day, and then women reciprocating on White Day!

In Norfolk County, East England, February 14 was originally celebrated as a day of delivering surprise valentines often through ding-dong-ditching your sweetie and leaving a bundle of gifts on the door step. This ritual survives as “Jack Valentine,” a mysterious cupid who disappears into thin air after knocking on the door with a delivery of gifts.

Legend has it that a drawing for love, or une loterie d’amour, was the tradition in France for many years. Single men and women would enter houses which faced opposite each other. They would take turns calling out to one another until they were all paired off. If a man did not like his match, he would leave her for another man to call.

After all pairings, the women who did not get matched up would get together for a ceremonial bonfire in which they burned pictures and objects of the men who rejected them. As the tradition grew, it became increasingly rowdy and uncontrollable, eventually leading the French government to ban the practice all together.

What about living the single life, you might ask? Well, in South Korea, locals celebrate Black Day on April 14 where those who didn’t exchange gifts on Valentine’s Day and White Day meet up to eat traditional Korean noodles in black bean sauce. Some claim they’re celebrating their single life, while others say they are mourning it.

Whether you embrace or rue Valentine's Day, the holiday's history and modified traditions around the world are reason enough to blush!

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