In the US, people show their love by sending flowers, boxes of chocolate, and those little candy hearts with words on them. But in other countries, it’s a little more complicated – there are strange customs, superstitions, and they’re fascinating. The type of chocolate dictates your relationship with someone in one country, and in yet another it marks the start of an agricultural season. Read on for some truly surprising but romantic traditions all around the world.
In Denmark, instead of red roses, friends and lovers exchange pressed white flowers called snowdrops instead. Men also give women a ‘gaekkebrev’ which is a “joking letter” which consists of a funny rhyme or poem written on intricately cut paper and signs with anonymous dots. If the receiver can guess the sender correctly, she gets an Easter egg later that year.
In Slovenia, February 14th is the first day of working the fields. St. Valentine is one of their patron saints of spring, and so it’s an auspicious day to start working in vineyards and fields, since usually it’s around this time in the season that plants and flowers start to be revived. People also believe that birds in the fields ppropose to their lovers and also get married on the day (aka, it’s really mating season.)
On Valentine’s day, it’s a tradition for young unmarried girls to wake up before dawn and spot her future husband. Supposedly, the first man a woman saw was the man she’d be married to in a year, or someone who would resemble him strongly. Talk about superstition! Now, couples gather in the city of Verona for Romeo and Juliet tours, where people can write love letters to Juliet, or retrace the doomed lovers’ footsteps.
They skip February 14th and instead celebrate Dia dos Namorados, or “lovers’ day” on June 12. Way prettier weather, anyway! Along with the exchange of gifts, music festivals and performances are held throughout the country. The love isn’t just about couples here either: they celebrate this day with friends and relatives too. Inclusive Valentine’s day – love it!
In England, women used to place 5 bay leaves on their pillows, 1 at each corner and the remaining at the center, to bring dreams of their future husbands. Or they dampen bay leaves with rose water and place them across their pillows. They even have a Santa for Valentine’s day! In Norfolk, children wait to hear Jack Valentine knocking on their door, who disappears after dropping off the gifts.
The custom of gifting chocolate in Japan is much better than it is here. They have a concept of gifting different types of chocolates to express the nature of your relationship intent without using words – who needs a card when you have chocolate? For instance, a woman gifts a ‘giri-choko’ to men with no romantic interest (family and work friends), and the ‘honmei-choko’, which means “favorite” and is gifted to love interests. If the chocolates are homemade the guy knows he’s extra lucky. February 14 is for sitting back and enjoying treats. On March 14 or “white day”, men can reciprocate feelings with giving woman lingerie, jewelry, clothing, and chocolates that are fancier than woman’s chocolate gift. They switch up the gender roles and we love it.
Valentine’s Day in China is Qixi, or the Seventh Night Festival, which falls on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month each year. During Qixi, young women prepare offerings of melon and other fruits to Zhinu in hopes of finding a good husband. Couples also head to temples to pray for happiness and prosperity. At night, people look to the heavens to watch as stars Vega and Altair (Zhinu and Niulang, respectively) come close during the star-crossed pair’s annual reunion. Singles visit the Temple of the Matchmaker to ask for luck in love, while couples come to pray for happiness and marriage. Unmarried girls pray to the Weaving Maid star, on this day, and it’s tradition for them to carve melons that day as well.
Mass wedding celebrations are what’s popular in the Philippines for Valentine’s day!
It brings together hundreds of couples in large open spaces across the country to be married in a massive wedding celebration. In 2013, over 4000 couples have been married at the same time throughout the country – the sharing aspect is lovely and speaks to a communal and inclusive culture – but I think I want my own wedding as opposed to a mega group date.
9. South Africa
South Africa has an unusual custom of their women wearing their hearts on their sleeves on February 14 – literally! They pin the names of their love interest on their shirtsleeves, which is actually an ancient Roman tradition known as Lupercalia. This is how many South African men figure out their secret admirers, funnily enough.