Valentine’s Day Traditions From Around the World

Words: Robyn Samuels

Valentine’s Day is one of those holidays you either love or hate. Those who celebrate usually spoil their loved ones with roses, chocolates, love letters and other mushy gifts – but some countries have more unique ways of spending this holiday, be it starting bonfires fuelled by rage or using bay leaves to manifest husbands. We take a trip around the globe and explore some unique Valentine’s Day traditions from around the world…

Ghana –National Chocolate Day

Chocolates are the ultimate symbol of love, and if you’re a chocoholic, you’ll want to hop on the first flight to Ghana for V-Day. While the rest of the world recognises the 14th of February as Valentine’s Day, this holiday is known as ‘National Chocolate Day’ in Ghana. The West African nation is known for its chocolate, with cocoa beans being their biggest export.

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National Chocolate Day is an opportunity for local businesses to promote chocolate and cocoa-based products. Although one of the aims of this project, which launched in 2005, was to get more locals to consume cocoa themselves, it was initially introduced as an abstinence campaign to encourage youths to celebrate their love with chocolate instead of sexual proclivities. Celebrations include cook-offs, chocolate tastings at market stalls and slam poetry; the event usually ends off with a scheduled rave.

South Korea – Gifts & Chocolates

When it comes to Valentine’s Day, men are typically impartial to gifts, but that isn’t the case in South Korea, where men are given chocolates and gifts. Women can expect a month’s delay on chocolates, flowers and gifts, as their spoils only arrive a month later on the 14th of March, better known as ‘White Day’.

There’s also a ‘Black Day’, which is as sad as it sounds. On April 14th, singles mourn their singlehood by indulging in jjajangmyeon or ‘black bean paste noodles’.

Japan – Chocolates for Men

In Japan, it’s also a Valentine’s Day tradition to gift men chocolates. Different types of chocolates are given depending on the nature of the relationship. They aren’t just designated for partners or spouses, chocolates are also gifted to male friends and bosses alike. Women receive gifts on the 14th of March, similar to the South Korean tradition.

The Philippines – Mass Weddings

Valentine’s Day is arguably one of the most popular dates for marriage proposals. In the Philippines, they take this to the next level and host mass weddings, where hundreds of couples take to the altar and simultaneously exchange vows. This grand celebration is orchestrated and sponsored by churches and government affiliations. This also gives destitute citizens the chance to legally declare their love for one another and ‘tie the knot’.

France – Bonfires & Love Letters

Most people dream of being whisked away by their partners to Paris, France, also known as the ‘city of love and lights’. This romantic destination is believed to be the birthplace of love letters. One of the first ever Valentine’s Day letters was written by prince and poet, Charles d’Orléans. The prince was held hostage in the Tower of London in 1415, after being taken in as a political prisoner by the English, yet still managed to slip his wife a love letter titled ‘A Farewell to Love’. Sounds more like a breakup letter, if you ask us, but the prince notoriously had a twisted sense of humour. Gifting cards is still a Valentine’s Day tradition in France and the world all over.

Another tradition is une loterie d’amour, which translates to ‘love drawing’ or ‘lottery of love’. This now-banned tradition once involved single men and women running into two separate houses on opposite sides of the road, they would call out a partner they desired to be paired with. The women not chosen apparently gathered to start bonfires and burned photographs of former lovers in an act of rebellion; this quickly got out of hand and was eventually shut down by government officials.

Taiwan – Shower your Love with Roses

No one is happier on Valentine’s than florists, especially florists based in Taiwan. Red roses are a popular symbol of love all over the world; in Taiwan, the colour and number of roses received have special meanings. Red roses mean ‘you are my only love’, eleven roses mean ‘you’re my favourite’, ninety-nine roses signify a ‘forever love’, and one-hundred-and-eight roses mean ‘will you marry me?’ – a romantic gesture, but having to count that many roses seems like a bunch of work.

England – Manifesting Husbands

Valentine’s Day doesn’t always smell like roses, for some, it can reek of rejection – something English women were well aware of and decided to take matters into their own hands using ‘love potions’. It was once a Valentine’s Day tradition for English women to slip bay leaves under their pillow – five leaves to be exact. This was apparently done to evoke dreams of future husbands. A similar ritual involved dabbing bay leaves with rose water – possibly to increase their chances of manifesting a husband?

Estonia – V-day with the Family

Galentine’s might be considered a fairly recent celebration to some, but not for Estonians and the Finnish. It’s customary to spend Valentine’s Day with one’s friends; parents also join in on the fun. This Valentine’s Day tradition is known as ‘Sobrapaev’ in Estonia, which loosely translates to ‘Friend’s Day’. The tradition began when schoolchildren were asked to make cards for their friends and parents, and the tradition stuck with them.

South Africa – Sweetie Pies & P.S. Chocolates

Similar to most western countries, South Africans gift flowers, chocolates and personalised gifts to their admirers or couples go out for romantic restaurant dinners. It’s also common for people to show up to work or school wearing red, white or pink clothing to fit the love theme. Treats typically gifted include Sweetie Pies (dome-shaped chocolates filled with marshmallow) and Cadbury P.S. chocolates, which come with cute messages like ‘Will you be mine?’ or ‘I’m Sorry’ if you’ve done something to upset your Valentine.

Want to impress your beau this Valentine’s Day? Try these romantic dinner and dessert ideas

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