10 Unique Valentine’s Day Traditions Around the World

Valentine’s Day is celebrated as a day of love on February 14. The tradition dates back to a festival in ancient Rome known as Lupercalia, which celebrated spring and fertility.

Valentine’s Day isn’t celebrated everywhere, though it’s gaining popularity worldwide thanks to global media and migration. Which countries celebrate Valentine’s Day? What are some of the sweetest Valentine’s traditions? Read on to discover more.

The roots of Valentine’s Day

The first known Valentine was sent by the Duke of Orleans from the Tower of London in 1415. At the end of the fifth century, Pope Gelasius I officially replaced the ancient Rome festival Lupercalia with St. Valentine’s Day, naming the day after 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.

10 special traditions for Valentine’s Day and other holidays of love

What countries celebrate Valentine's Day: couple making a heart shape using their hands

Since its introduction in Europe, Valentine’s Day has gone global. While not all countries participate, there are many that either celebrate Valentine’s Day with unique traditions or have their own holidays dedicated to love.

We think these Valentine’s Day traditions and celebrations of love, old and new, are among the sweetest and most surprising.

1. 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 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.”

2. Italian traditions new and old

What countries celebrate Valentine’s Day: close up shot of chocolates

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. In Verona, the city of Romeo and Juliet, locals decorate the squares with heart-shaped lanterns.

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.

3. 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 a woman who “wears her heart on her sleeve.” It’s common for men to find out about a secret admirer on this day.

4. Festivals of love in Chinese culture

Red lanterns on a street

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 Seventh Festival.

Other festivals dedicated to love in China, Taiwan, and Singapore include the Lantern Festival during Lunar New Year and the lesser-known Shangsi Festival.

5. 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. For instance, February 14th is known as Friend’s Day in Finland and Estonia.

6. Mystery notes in Denmark

Close up shot of snowdrops

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.

7. Romantic dinners in France

In France, Valentines Day, or La Fête de Saint Valentin, is for lovers.

Unlike in the U.S., where Valentine’s Day is a day of love and friendship, February 14th is considered purely a day for romantic love in France.

While some couples consider the day a commercial affair and make no effort to mark it, many like to exchange gifts with their sweethearts, buying flowers, perfume, and jewelry.

According to one study, 60% of French couples who celebrate Valentine’s Day go out for a meal, 21% cook at home, and 14% simply head out for a drink.

8. Obligatory chocolate in Japan

Gift-giving is an important part of social interaction in Japanese culture, so the Valentine’s Day tradition of expressing love with candy caught on quickly when it was introduced in the 1930s by confectionery companies.

However, Valentine’s Day in Japan looks quite different from Western norms.

On February 14th, it’s women who are expected to buy gifts for the important men in their life—and more specifically, chocolate.

There are different names for these chocolate gifts, depending on the relationship:

  • Giri-choco, translated as “obligation chocolate” is intended to show gratitude to male friends and work colleagues.
  • Honmei-choco is reserved for a significant other.
  • Jibun-choco is a gift you give to yourself.

While women are expected to do all the work on Valentine’s Day, men in Japan don’t get to opt out. One month later is White Day, when men are expected to return the favor and honor the women in their life with white cakes or candies.

9. Valentine’s Day traditions in Brazil

Unlike most other countries, Brazilians celebrate Dia dos Namorados, which translates to Sweetheart’s Day or Lover’s Day in Portuguese, on June 12th.

This date change is for good reason. February 14th falls in the middle of Carnival, one of the biggest events on the Brazilian calendar, so most people are too busy for a celebration of love.

On the other hand, June 13th is Saint Anthony’s Day, the patron saint for recovering lost items and blessing young couples, so it makes sense to celebrate the two days close together.

A unique Valentine’s Day tradition in Brazil is simpatias. These are offerings to Saint Anthony from women hoping to meet the right man.

Simpatias include dipping an image of St. Anthony in water, and putting a rose in a glass of water with a pinch of salt, then bathing in the water two days later.

10. Celebrating St. Dwynwen’s Day in Wales

Person holding two wooden spoons

The Welsh have their own version of Valentine’s Day on January 25th: St. Dwynwen’s Day.

Dwynwen was a Welsh princess who fell in love with a young man named Maelon.

Unfortunately for the pair, her father had promised her to another prince. In despair, Dwynwen prayed for help, and an angel gave her a potion that would help Dwynwen forget her troubles.

The potion had the side effect of turning Maelon into ice. Dwynwen prayed again, and this time God granted the princess three wishes: that Maelon would be thawed, she would not have to marry anyone, and God would take care of all true lovers.

Just like on Valentine’s Day in other cultures, St. Dwynwen’s Day in Wales is celebrated with the exchange of Valentine’s Day cards, romantic dinners, and gifts.

One unique custom? Carving wooden spoons to be given as gifts.

Celebrate Valentine’s Day your way

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Further reading