Sacrificial goats? Women being whipped in the streets? That doesn’t sound much like the modern idea of Valentine’s Day.
But that’s where the “festival of love” started, as Ancient Rome’s celebration of Lupercalia. It took the intervention of the Catholic Church when it appeared on the European scene, as well as whole volumes of romantic verse from Shakespeare and Chaucer, to bring the festival anywhere close to its modern-day incarnation. And that’s only in parts of Europe and the English-speaking world!
Valentine’s Day is far from the only celebration of love you can find. There are days given over to romance in pretty much any calendar you care to name…
In this article, we’ll take a look at how Valentine’s Day is celebrated around the world, as well as other traditional ways of lauding love.
Wales – St Dwynwen’s Day
If you’re familiar with St Valentine’s Day and you’re in Wales on the 25th January, celebrating St Dwynwen’s Day won’t be too far out of your way. It has the same exchanging of cards, gifts and romantic meals as Valentine’s Day does. But it also involves something called “lovespoons”…
If you’re rather less familiar with Welsh culture than you are Valentine’s Day, you might not have heard of these brilliant gifts! A lovespoon is essentially just what it sounds like:
A wooden spoon – traditionally hand carved by a young man for his intended – with symbols which hold a particular significance to the couple engraved or embossed upon it. The little-known lovespoons are fairly common gifts in Wales for such occasions as weddings, anniversaries, or the birth of a child, and make an unusual but sweet celebration of love for your next St Dwynwen’s Day.
Romania – Dragobete
It’s not a national holiday, but Romania’s Dragobete is celebrated – sometimes on the 28th, sometimes on the 29th of February – in pretty much every part of the country.
Various regions have their own traditions, but the exchanging of gifts to show affection is pretty much universal. There’s also the slightly more esoteric tradition that the eldest woman in the household should bake some salty bread for the younger women to eat. If you’re an unmarried woman, you might also consider putting some basil under your pillow if you want to dream of your future husband.
Another Romanian tradition says that, because of the links with spring and being “bird betrothal time” (i.e. the time of year when certain birds mate and start building nests) anyone who fancies a little good luck and happiness this coming year can wash their face with snow during Dragobete to improve their chances.
Brazil – Dia dos Namorados
Dia dos Namorados (the “Day of the Enamoured”) is celebrated in Brazil on the 12th June. Being a Brazilian festival, this isn’t a small celebration or a quiet day. Expect big dances, music, lots of food and epic parties if you’re in the country on this day of love!
Brazil’s Valentine’s Day is celebrated later in the year than the European version. This is because the Day of St Anthony (the patron saint of marriages) is on the 13th, and this is seen as an auspicious time to extol a relationship whether the couple is married or unmarried.
As well as the parties – large affairs which generally involve friends and family members of the happy couples – and the exchanging of gifts, sending your intended a series of messages throughout the day is a traditional way to celebrate Valentine’s Day in Brazil. It reminds your loved one of what they have to look forward to later on!
China – Sisters’ Meal Festival (Miao) and Qixi Festival
Sisters’ Meal Festival
In the counties of Taijian and Jianhe in the Guizhou Province in China, you’ll find the Miao people, a minority ethnic group. Their celebration of love and spring, the Sisters’ Meal Festival celebrated between 30th April and 2nd of May, has become something of a tourist magnet in recent years. The event presents quite the spectacle, with bright traditional costumes, singing and dancing in a question and answer format between the single men and women, as well as bullfighting and horse racing.
The origins of the festival go back to folklore surrounding two childhood friends who grow up and fall in love but are forbidden to marry. In the tale, the girl brings the boy a hidden meal of specially flavoured rice to display her affection at their secret meetings. The term gad liangl or “hidden meal” has entered the Miao language as a term vaguely equivalent to “secret admirer”, though in this case you actually have to take a secret meal to the one you admire to show your affections.
Traditionally during festival time, younger girls go out to collect flowers and leaves in order to make natural food colouring to brighten up the coloured rice which is cooked as part of the festival to link in with the story. The rice is dyed blue, pink, yellow, and white to represent the seasons of the year. After cooking, this rice is gathered by the single women who can present a bowl of it to a single man with a gift to show her intentions. These can include:
- Chinese toon sprouts or parsley – the woman wants to get married to the man.
- Cotton – the woman misses the man.
- Cotton + toon sprouts – the woman wants to get married to the man soon – hurry up and ask!
- Pepper or garlic – the woman is very much not interested!
There are also various gifts which imply which gifts the man should give in return.
All in all, it’s a similar yet wonderfully different way to celebrate Valentine’s Day in this part of Asia.
Also known as the Chinese Valentine’s Day, the Qixi Festival happens on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese lunar calendar. In 2018, this falls on August 17th.
Previously known as the Qi Qiao, or Girls’ Festival, Qixi has a long tradition stretching all the way back to the Han Dynasty (approximately 206BC-220AD)! Though traditional Qixi Festival activities might include a girl placing a sewing needle in a bowl of water overnight to determine if she was good at embroidery or praying for good luck in marriage, many people these days will give gifts and greetings cards in much the same way as Valentine’s Day is celebrated in “western” countries.
South Korea – White Day
South Korea actually has three “Valentine’s Days”, with specific activities expected during each:
- Valentine’s Day – 14th February – girls give chocolate to boys
- White Day –14th March – boys give chocolate to girls.
- Black Day – 14th April – the Anti Valentine’s Day! Singles unite to dress in black mourning wear and get together to eat a special dish called jajangmyeon, a delicious sweet and savoury noodle concoction.
Well, those are the ones which are closest to the “western” idea of what Valentine’s Day should be. South Korea actually has a love celebration on the 14th of every month, should one wish to partake!
You might also enjoy sharing some of these with your loved one:
- Kiss Day – 14th June
- Wine Day – 14th October
- Hug Day – 14th December
Spain – Barcelona Second Valentine’s Day
Not content with one celebration of love, Spain – which, after all, speaks one of the commonly agreed languages of love – has several, depending on which part of the country you’re in.
Much like the UK, Catalonia celebrates St George’s Day (“La Dia de Sant Jordi“) on April 23rd, as the dragon-slaying knight is their patron saint too. Here, it’s not only the National Day of Catalonia but also a traditional time for lovers to exchange gifts too. In this case, that gift is traditionally a book.
While a work of literature might not be something that goes with the knight in shining armour vibe, the link seems to be that it was also on the 23rd April that William Shakespeare died, closely preceded by Spain’s most famous writer Cervantes the day before – both in the year 1616! Thus, giving someone a gift is a reminder of romantic works.
It’s worth noting that Valencia also has a second Valentine’s Day. This is the Day of San Dionisio or Sant Dionís on October 9th. Here, you’re likely to get a slightly more tasty bit of fruit-shaped marzipan as a Valentine’s Day gift, especially if you’re male.
Israel – Tu B’Av
Though it went out of style for Jewish people to celebrate this festival for almost two millennia, modern Israel has brought it back with a bang!
Sometimes called the Hebrew or Jewish St Valentine’s Day, Tu B’Av (the 15th Day of Av), like many Jewish festivals, actually begins on the night of the 14th as that is the night of a full moon in the lunar Hebrew calendar.
The reasons why the much older version of the festival took place on this date are widely disputed (though it was common for fertility festivals in ancient cultures to take place during a full moon) as the festival itself isn’t mentioned in any texts until the 2nd century.
The modern version, however, is not really a religious event. Recently it’s been the secular side Israeli culture which has made this a day of singing and dancing and there are few religious overtones. Tu B’Av also doesn’t have that much in common with Valentine’s Day as someone in a “western” country might experience it…
But then again, perhaps that is where the common ground between all these festivals lies:
The original Valentine’s Day in Ancient Rome has been through many, many incarnations before becoming the day of romance which a modern audience would recognise. Almost every other festival on this list has likewise changed dramatically from how it originally happened.
The unifying theme is that no matter what part of the world you’re from, love is always something which deserves to be celebrated.
How do they celebrate love in your part of the world?
If you’ve got an interesting or fun tradition which you’ve always thought the rest of the world should get in on, comment below and start… sharing the love, so to speak! We’ll try and add the most unique to our article.