By Alexandra Evans
We aren’t quite bleeding red, white, and pink, or handing out chocolates, roses, jewelry, and extravagant cards just yet, but the day is around the corner. Today’s question is: how do people across the globe celebrate Valentine’s Day?
Some take Valentine’s Day more seriously than others, insisting that the day should be devoted only to lovers. Others are more flexible and don’t get the wrong idea when single folks send gifts to one another. I’ve experienced the latter for a majority of my life, which has been just as pleasant!
“Love” is a very abstract term; it can apply to romantic partners, family members, friends, and influential figures in our lives. However, unlike the United States, where Valentine’s Day is generally observed; some people across the world may get the wrong idea or be confused when someone with whom they have a platonic relationship uses the word “love.”
Let’s explore five countries and their Valentines Day endeavors:
The French like to keep Valentine’s Day, or “La-Saint Valentin,” a day devoted exclusively to romantic partners. On average, it is estimated that lovers spent a couple hundred Euros on one another each year. That’s basically like a second birthday or Christmas for each person, one could argue.
Elementary-aged children do not exchange cards with one another, nor do individuals send gifts to those with whom they are “just friends.” Doing so can allegedly give the recipient the wrong idea.
An average Valentine’s Day in Paris, one of the most romantic cities in the world, consists of an exchange of flowers and chocolate, along with cards endearing words to consistently remind one’s partner (whom they refer to as “mon amour”) how much they are loved. This is usually followed by a romantic, extravagant dinner date with glasses of champagne.
The French also like to acknowledge historical figures such as Charles the Duke of Orleans, a poet from the 1400s who, from his prison cell, sent the first modern Valentine’s Day card and numerous poems to his wife.
In Italy, Valentine’s Day, or “San Valentino” is a day where couples seek to express their strong feelings in any way possible, be it through endearing words, food, music, books (such as “Ho voglio di te,” or “I want you,” by Federico Moccia), movies, and the traditional flowers, cards, and chocolate.
A common gift exchange between Italian couples is that of Baci chocolate candies, made by Perguina. These chocolate and hazelnut treats are basically a combination of a Chinese fortune cookie and a Hershey’s Kiss, one could argue. Each one is wrapped in shiny foil and contains a love note written in Italian.
In Verona, where star-crossed lovers Romeo and Juliet met, a town square called Piazza dei Signori is decked out in heart lanterns and a giant painting of a red heart on the street. Verona is one of Italy’s most notable Valentine’s Day-celebrating cities. In honor of Shakespeare’s famous tragedy, there is a letter-writing contest for the most beautiful letter to Juliet. Additionally, Piazza dei Signori hosts free romantically-themed concerts and offers visitors discounted prices on local hotels and specially priced menus at restaurants.
Belgium offers numerous Valentine’s Day activities and events for natives and tourists alike, chocolate events being one of them. No shocker, flower, card, and candy exchanges are common here as well, but I feel obligated to focus on the chocolate here as Belgians take the treat to a whole new level!
My mouth started watering when I heard about the various chocolate events, museums, exhibits, and tastings offered in Belgium. One of the most notable events is the Salon du Chocolat, which one can think of as a sophisticated upgrade of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. As I recall, Mr. Wonka may offer almost every type of chocolate ever known, but he neither employs top-line chefs nor does he host chocolate-themed fashion shows, pastry workshops for both children and adults. Anyone interested in checking out chocolate sculptures? I just raised my own hand.
Other romantic events offered in Brussels, Belgium are wine tastings, antique jewelry shopping, and a variety of Valentine’s Day-themed festivals with concerts to follow.
“Qixi” translates to “The Double Seventh Day.” This holiday does not fall on February 14; rather, it is celebrated on the 7th day of the 7th lunar month (following the Chinese lunar calendar), which varies year by year. This year, Qixi, also known as “Chinese Valentine’s Day,” will fall on August 7.
Qixi dates back over 2,000 years. Legend has it that a goddess named Zhi Nu, notable for weaving, fell in love with the mortal Niu Lang, a cow herder. The two married and had two children, though upon discovering the marriage, Zhi Nu’s mother was outraged and dragged her back to heaven. Both were heartbroken, and on top of that, the mother created a river of stars (the Milky Way) using her hairpin to keep the two apart. This was in spite of the fact that an ox who accompanied Niu Lang throughout his life (as he left home to escape domestic abuse) permitted Niu Lang to use his leather to make shoes to help him fly to heaven.
Qixi marks the one day a year when Zhi Nu’s mother, though reluctant, permitted her daughter and the cow herder to see one another with the help of magpies. Historically, women have celebrated Qi Xi in the hopes of finding love. For example, women would hold gatherings as a tribute to Zhi Nu, or Vega (“the weaver fairy”). The gatherings would consist of a spread of tea, wine, fruits, red dates, and melon seeds, to name a few, and in the evening, the women would share their needlework with one another while gazing at the heavens. They would also read poetry and play games until the clock struck midnight. Another tradition was to honor the ox. Children would pick wild flowers and hang them on the horns of oxen to commemorate Niu Lang’s companion.
Today, Chinese lovers often simply exchange flowers, chocolate, and other gifts, but the tale of Zhi Nu and Niu Lang is passed down to each generation.
In Korean culture, there’s a “day” for men, women, and singles alike!
Valentine’s Day, February 14th, is a day devoted exclusively to romantic partners. It is also a day for women to shower men with love, most notably in the form of chocolate and chocolate candies. Local shops may as well refer to this day as “sale day;” convenience stores set up candy displays outside of their facility. Most often, Ferrero Rocher, Twix and Chupa Chups adorn the tables.
March 14th, or “White Day,” was imported from Japan. On this day, Korean men, in turn, inundate their lovers with candy and gifts, most of which are far more extravagant than the gifts men receive from women. Korean men abide by the “rule of three,” which states that any gift a man purchases must be three times as reverent as the one he received from his female lover. Traditionally, the gifts have been “white,” such as white chocolate and white lingerie. However, today, men’s purchases have expanded to include dark chocolate and other non-chocolate candies, along with different colored lingerie.
April 14th, or “Black Day,” signifies a day for singles to get together with fellow singles and eat Jjajangmyeon, or black bean noodles, alongside one another. Depending on each person’s perspective, Black Day can be devoted to celebrating freedom or masking the sorrows of being single. Personally, I embrace the former.
So, no matter where you are in the world, whether you’re married, engaged, in a romantic relationship (monogamous or polygamous), or single, be sure to surround yourself with loved ones this Valentine’s Day. What are your plans? Tweet me at @AlexandraLilE_