Valentine’s Day is celebrated as a day of love around the world on February 14. The tradition dates back to a festival in ancient Rome known as Lupercalia, which celebrated spring and fertility. The first known Valentine was sent by the Duke of Orleans from the Tower of London in 1415.
At the end of the 5th century, Pope Gelasius I officially replaced Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day, naming the day for the patron saint of lovers. In the United States, the modern holiday is associated with Hallmark greeting cards, images of Cupid, and gift-giving.
That’s true elsewhere, too, but there’s far more than one way to celebrate across the globe.
We think these six Valentine’s Day traditions, old and new, are among the sweetest and most surprising.
South Korea: Not Just Valentine’s Day
For young South Korean couples, Valentine’s Day is very special, but it’s only one of many events dedicated to love. On February 14, women give gifts to men, consisting of the classic flowers, chocolates, and candies. The men return the favor on March 14, a day known as “White Day.”
Singles aren’t left out, either, though their dedicated day is a tad bitter. On April 14, known as “Black Day,” single people gather with friends to eat jajangmyeon black noodles, and some even wear black to mourn their single status.
However, South Korea shifts the focus back to love on June 14, which is the “Day of Kisses.”
Italian Traditions New and Old
A long time ago, Italians celebrated Saint Valentine’s Day as part of the Spring Festival. Lovers would gather in gardens, reading poetry and sharing music with one another.
Another tradition in Italy encouraged young unmarried girls to awaken early, as it was said the first man they spotted before dawn would be their husband within the year.
Italy now celebrates Valentine’s Day in a more modern manner. Couples plan romantic dinners and almost always gift Baci Perugina to one another, which is an Italian candy made from chocolate-covered hazelnuts. The candy wrapper even includes a romantic quote in four different languages.
Love Notes in South Africa
To this day, women from South Africa follow the ancient Roman tradition of Lupercalia that started it all.
On Lupercalia, many South African women take a pen and paper, write the name of whoever they’re interested in, and pin it to their sleeve. It’s more direct than a love letter!
This is, in fact, the origin of the saying of a woman who “wears her heart on her sleeve.” It’s common for men to find out about a secret admirer on this day.
Festivals of Love in Chinese Culture
People of Chinese descent around the world celebrate Valentine’s Day with flowers, chocolates, and small gifts. But February 14th isn’t the main day for romance in Chinese culture. In fact, Valentine’s Day is eclipsed by August’s Qixi Festival, which celebrates a star-crossed couple from Chinese mythology. It’s also known as the Double Seven Festival.
Sweetness Week in Argentina
Valentine’s Day in Argentina takes place on February 14, and Argentinians celebrate it very much in the same way other countries do.
However, for Argentinians, the special day in February is only the precursor to a longer celebration known as “Sweetness Week.” Sweetness Week, which only started in 1989, happens in July.
During Sweetness Week, friends and lovers alike exchange kisses and candies, and the week wraps up on “Friendship Day,” when friendships of all kinds are celebrated and appreciated.
Argentina isn’t the only country to celebrate non-romantic friendships on a special day. February 14th is known as Friend’s Day in Finland and Estonia, for instance.
Mystery Notes in Denmark
Valentine’s Day is a fairly new celebration in Denmark—dating back only as far as the 1990s, in fact. Danes have the Netto Supermarket to thank for the tradition, which started selling products with a romantic theme during the month of February.
These days, younger Danish people give spring flowers called snowdrops along with anonymous notes called “gaekkebrev.” If their recipient correctly guesses who sent the note, they get a candy Easter egg when Easter rolls around.
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