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Valentine’s Day Around the World

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In North America, when we think of Valentine’s Day, red roses, chocolates and champagne come to mind. We also tend to think of this day of love as being steeped in the tradition of men spoiling women. However, all around the world, there are Valentine’s Day customs and practices that differ greatly from our own. Check out these five unique Valentine’s Day conventions from cultural metros around the globe.

Tokyo, Japan
In Japan, the tradition of giving chocolates as a token of love on Valentine’s Day is as strong as it is here in the Western hemisphere. However, the gender roles are reversed. Instead of having men dote on women and shower them with gifts, Japanese culture reserves Valentine’s Day as a day for women to show their affections to men via their stomachs. Two types of chocolate are given. One, known as “Giri-choco” is given out of obligation and is meant for friends, colleagues, employers and close male friends. The other, “Honmei-choco” is given as an expression of love and is designated for boyfriends, husbands, and romantic partners. One month later, White Day is celebrated in Japan. On this day, men who received chocolates on Valentine’s Day give return gifts.

Manila, Philippines
In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is taken very seriously — so seriously, in fact, that many couples from across the country are jumping on the new trend of mass wedding celebrations. Hundreds of couples gather at shopping malls or other public areas to profess their undying love for one another. In 2013, over 4,000 Filipino men and women said their “I dos” or renewed their wedding vows in the company of other brides and grooms on Valentine’s Day. In situations where couples cannot afford traditional wedding arrangements, the local government steps in to provide a venue, food, gifts, photography and a marriage license. Like we said, Valentine’s Day is no joke in the Philippines.

Paris, France
Considered one of the most romantic cities in the entire world, it comes as no surprise that Paris has its own set of Valentine’s Day traditions. Although it has since been banned by the French government, one tradition, called the “une loterie d’amour,” which roughly translates to “drawing for love,” involved gestures we often see today in pop culture and the media. During this custom, single men and women would line up opposite each other in large houses and call out to one another until paired off. If a male suitor found he was not attracted to the woman with whom he was paired he could reject her. Any women remaining single at the end of the ritual would participate in a ceremonial bonfire during which they would burn images of the rejecting suitors and hurl insults at them. Understandably, this practice soon became too disorderly and unmanageable for the government and, as such, was made illegal. Now we have Tinder.

Copenhagen, Denmark
Valentine’s Day went largely uncelebrated in Denmark until the early 1990s. Despite this, the Danes have developed their own expressions of love to celebrate the holiday, including the exchange of pressed white flowers called Snowdrops. In addition to this newly founded Danish tradition, men also prepare anonymous letters called gaekkebrev for women. These “joking letters” consist of funny poems or rhymes on decoratively cut paper. If the female recipient of a gaekkebrev letter can correctly guess the author, she will receive an Easter egg from the sender on Easter.

Cardiff, Wales
Instead of celebrating Valentine’s Day, the Welsh celebrate St. Dwynwen’s Day on January 25th. Saint Dwynwen is the Welsh patron saint of lovers. On this day, instead of offering chocolate and roses as tokens of affection, it is customary for men to give women love-spoons. These intricately carved wooden spoons feature symbolic patterns and designs. For example, horseshoes designate good luck, wheels show support and hard work, and keys illustrate the keys to a man’s heart. Today, this tradition is still carried out. However, love-spoons are now exchanged on other occasions as well, including weddings, anniversaries and birthdays.

About the writer:

Always a dreamer, Jill Bentham is a passionate writer and photographer based in Toronto.

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