Valentine’s Day: Love, history link global celebrations
What’s on your list for Valentine’s Day? In the U.S., it’s often a dozen red roses, a box of candy and a poetic card. Or maybe it’s dinner at an upscale restaurant and a gift of jewelry. While united by a common theme of love, people around the globe fulfill Cupid’s mission in a variety of ways that pay tribute to their unique cultural customs and traditions.
According to history.com, “The day…is named for a Christian martyr and dates back to the 5th century” with “vestiges of both Christian and ancient Roman tradition.” The exact martyr remains a mystery, as “the Catholic Church recognizes at least three different saints named Valentine or Valentinus, all of whom were martyred. … While some believe that Valentine’s Day is celebrated in the middle of February to commemorate the anniversary of Valentine’s death or burial…others claim that the Christian church may have decided to place St. Valentine’s feast day in the middle of February in an effort to ‘Christianize’ the pagan celebration of Lupercalia. Celebrated at the ides of February, or February 15, Lupercalia was a fertility festival dedicated to Faunus, the Roman god of agriculture, as well as to the Roman founders Romulus and Remus.”
An early tradition in Turin, a “betrothed couple used to announce their engagement on the Valentine’s Day. Several days ahead of February 14, stores were decorated and loaded with a huge variety of bon-bon. Some even sold china baskets and cups filled with delectable Valentine’s Day candies and tied with a ribbon. These were to be presented as gifts to Valentine,” stvalentinesday.org reports.
“Another interesting Valentine’s Day tradition followed in Italy and Britain made unmarried girls to wake up before sunrise. People strongly believed that the first man an unmarried girl sees on Valentine’s Day, or someone who looks like him, would marry her within a year. Girls therefore used to wake up early on Valentine’s Day and stand by their window to watch a man pass.”
Modern times saw the creation of Baci Perugina, a popular gift in which “small, chocolate-covered hazelnuts contain…a small slip of paper with a romantic poetic quote,” according to stvalentinesday.org. The Baci® Perugina® website states the notes now come in five languages, designed to “Say ‘I love you’ the Italian way!”
The written word plays a major role in the British celebration of Valentine’s Day. According to historic-uk.com, “The first real association of St. Valentine’s Day with romantic love, or ‘love birds’, derives from Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘Parlement of Foules’ (or, ‘Parliament of Fowls’). Dating from 1382, Chaucer celebrated the engagement of the 15-year-old King Richard II to Anne of Bohemia via a poem, in which he wrote: ‘For this was on St. Valentine’s Day, when every bird (fowl) cometh to choose his mate.’”
Around the turn of the 17th century, playwright William Shakespeare used the phrase in Ophelia’s lament in Hamlet: “To-morrow is Saint Valentine’s day, All in the morning betime, And I a maid at your window, To be your Valentine.”
“Another popular belief held by people of Great Britain,” states stvalentinesday.org, “made women pin four bay leaves to the corners of their pillow and eat eggs with salt replacing the removed yokes on Valentine’s Day eve. Unmarried girls to dream of their future husband followed the custom. Unmarried ladies also used to write their lover’s names on paper and put them on clay balls that they would drop into the water. It was believed that whichever paper came up first, that man would be their future husband.”
According to a 2014 article on euronews.com, “It’s often claimed…that the first Valentine’s Day card originated in France when Charles, Duke of Orleans, sent love letters to his wife while imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1415.”
In poems, states historic-uk.com, “the duke talks of his love for his wife and refers to her as ‘my very sweet Valentine.’”
The Danish Valentine, according to stvalentines.net, “known as a lover’s card, came in the form of a transparency. When held up to the light showed a picture of a lover handing his love a gift.” Snowdrop candies are often exchanged, along with poems and love notes—sometimes serious, sometimes “Gaekkebrev.” A tradition dating back to the 18th century, according to wonderful-denmark.com, the term “really means ‘a letter for a fool.’” The decorated paper card contains a written poem, often with a pressed snowdrop flower, and is signed with dots, the same number as letters in the sender’s name. The recipient must correctly guess the sender’s name to earn an Easter egg; if the name cannot be discerned, an Easter egg is owed the sender.
Everythingvalentinesday.com shares the origin of extravagant celebrations in this country: “It is believed that during the gold rush period, miners became extremely rich due to the new wealth found from the Ballarat mines. Miners ordered lavish Valentine’s functions to express the happiness in their success. They distributed loads of expensive gifts, sweets to people and their celebrations enriched the posh streets of Brisbane, Canberra and Sydney.”
In modern times, towns like Adelaide, Perth and Sydney celebrate cultural diversity with music festivals, carnivals and amateur theater performances, “which make a vivid display of Australia’s ethnic art and craft activities, fun shows and sports competitions,” according to the website. In fact, the Facebook page “Valentines Day Australia” links to a website listing various restaurants and related activities for major cities in the country.
JAPAN (and SOUTH KOREA and TAIWAN)
On Valentine’s Day, custom is for girls and women to give “giri-choco” (obligation chocolate) to the men in their lives, from husbands and boyfriends to teachers and co-workers.
But exactly one month later, men reciprocate on White Day with gifts that double or triple (“sanbai-gaeshiin”) the value of what they were given, writes Haruka Masumizu in a March 2014 article on Japantoday.com. In 1977, “a confectionery shop in Fukuoka started to sell white marshmallows and called March 14 ‘Marshmallow Day.’ Their marshmallows included chocolate inside, and the brand’s advertising message was, “I will return your chocolate covered in my gentleness” (a reference to marshmallow’s softness).” The next year, a confectionary trade association came up with White Day to promote sales. Today’s White Day gifts include items like watches and accessories, Masumizu says.
He adds, “Though White Day originated in Japan, it was exported to South Korea and Taiwan, where they additionally started ‘Black Day’ on March 14. It is a day for singles to get together wearing black to comfort each other over not getting any gift either on Valentine’s Day or White Day.”
“Valentine’s Day celebrations in Estonia have their own twist,” according to the euronews.com article. “February 14 is called ‘Friend’s Day,’ so single, lovelorn people don’t feel left out. That means everyone’s a winner thanks to nice presents offered between friends and family members.”