The origins of Valentine’s Day are not really clear. According to some accounts, it goes back to Roman times when the month of February was devoted to the pagan deity Luperculus, who created couples of men and women that worshipped him.
With the birth of the Church, the pagan god was replaced by St. Valentine of Terni, a bishop who allowed Roman legionnaires to marry but was then executed by the Emperor for this act of disobedience.
However, it was only thanks to the rise of courtly love that Valentine’s Day became the feast day that we know today.
What you might not know is that the day is not celebrated in the same way everywhere in the world. So, we will take a trip around the world to explore the strangest and most curious traditions linked to this celebration.
We start with Asia, in Japan. Here, women usually give chocolates to their favourite men (boyfriends, friends, colleagues) who must return the favour on 14 March, known as “White Day”. In South Korea, on the other hand, 14 April is ”Black Day”: anyone who received nothing on 14 February or 14 March must order a plate of spaghetti with squid ink and lament his/her bad luck in love.
In Bangkok (Thailand), Valentine’s Day is the day when lovers descend on Bang Rak (literally, the “village of love”) to get married, with long queues outside the registry office from the early hours of the morning.
Finally, in the Philippines, on 14 February the government offers couples the opportunity to marry in public places, for free.
Now let’s take a look at America, where the most intriguing Valentine’s Day traditions can be found in the USA and Brazil.
In the US, this celebration is seen as a day to highlight the importance of loving each other generally, and so gift-giving occurs also with friends and colleagues. In Brazil, on the other hand, the celebrations take place on 12 June when single women carry around a statue of St. Anthony all day, to hopefully attract a potential husband.
Let’s look now at Europe where the feast day emerged but where there are many differing traditions. In England, for example, there’s the custom of sending anonymous cards to your “Valentine”. Nearby, in Wales, the llwy caru are famous – wooden ‘love spoons’ carved with hearts, keys and locks, and given as gifts on 25 January.
In Slovenia, 14 February is the feast day of the patron saint of spring, the perfect season for love, when it is traditional to take a romantic walk among the fields. On the same day, in Finland and Estonia they celebratethe feast day of friends, to be spent together with pals. Germany is distinctly different from all other countries: here, St. Valentine is the protector of the mentally ill, and so tradition dictates that psychiatric hospitals are decorated with red ribbons.