From Black Noodles To Joke Letters: Unique Valentine’s Day Traditions All Over The World
Valentine’s Day around the world has become synonymous to roses and chocolates and sweet greeting cards. While the Philippines and many Western countries celebrate Valentine’s Day pretty straightforwardly, by going out to eat or spending the night at home with a nice home-cooked meal, other cultures around the world have a unique way of showing their appreciation and admiration for their loved ones.
During February 14, Danish men would give the women a gaekkebrev which loosely means “joke letter.” A funny poem or rhyme is written down on a piece of symmetrically cut paper—think of paper cutting techniques we usually do in grade school—and the sender’s identity is hidden behind a series of cut dots, where each dot represents one letter of his name.
If the woman accurately guesses the sender of the card, she will be receiving an Easter egg. If she fails to guess the sender, she will have to send an Easter egg once his identity is revealed to her.
Traditionally, Spring flowers, known as snowdrops, are sent along with the gaekkebrev.
China (Image by WorldShooter, Flickr)
Chinese celebrate their version of the Valentine’s Day on the 7th day of the 7th month on the Chinese calendar. Called the Qixi Festival, the Chinese Valentine's Day, the Night of Sevens, or the Magpie Festival, it is celebrated typically around August. This year, the Qixi Festival falls on August 28, and it celebrates the annual meeting of the two legendary lovers in Chinese mythology: Zhinü, the weaver maid, and Niulang, the cowherder.
According to the old lores, Zhinü, the Goddess's seventh daughter, fell in love with the poor cowherder. The Goddess of Heaven, however, did not approve of the match and sent Zhinü back to the stars. In an effort to get back his wife, Niulang took their two kids to find Zhinü in the heavens. The Goddess discovered Niulang’s plan and scratched a wide river in the sky to separate the two lovers forever, forming the Milky Way. Taking pity on the two lovers, the magpies would form a bridge in the heavens once a year so the lovers can be together for a single night.
During this festival, women make offerings of fruits, tea, flowers, and face powder to Niulang and Zhinü. Couple also visit the temples to pray for happiness and prosperity. Nowadays, there are also various programs held throughout China during the festival where couples light up lanterns and send it to the sky.
Wales (Image by brownpau, Flickr)
Valentine’s Day originated from the celebration of the Christian feast of Saint Valentine. But in Wales, they celebrate the feast of a saint at a different time of the year. The Welsh’s version of Valentine’s Day is called Dydd Santes Dwynwen and is celebrated on January 25. The holiday celebrates Saint Dwynwen, the Welsh saint of lovers.
Traditionally, a romantic gift during Dydd Santes Dwynwen is a love spoon, which dates back to 17th century, Wales were Welsh men carved intricate wooden spoons for women they love. Nowadays, Welsh people celebrate with more modern options such as parties, concerts, and greeting cards.
Bulgaria (Image from Vinprom Karnobat)
Apart from celebrating Valentine’s Day on the 14th of February, Bulgarians also celebrate the Day of St. Trifon Zarezan, the patron saint of winegrowers. One of the legends surrounding St. Trifon was that he was the brother of the Virgin Mary. One day, when Trifon was pruning his grape vines, the Virgin Mary told Trifon about his child Jesus and Trifon laughed at her for having an illegitimate child. Furious with Trifon, Mary went to Trifon’s wife and told her that Trifon cut his nose while pruning the vines. Trifon’s wife rushed back to Trifon to help him but he turned out alright. Trifon laughed when his wife told him that Mary told her he cut his nose—and from too much laughing, his hand slipped and he really cut his nose.
Most wineries in Bulgaria still observe the traditional way of celebrating the Day of St. Trifon Zarezan where an appointed “Wine King” carries a wreath made from pruned vine sticks and blesses the vineyards that is watered with wine. At the end of the day, the people go to the Wine King’s house for food and wine.
Romania (Image by Filip Danilevici, Flickr)
Instead of celebrating Valentine’s Day on the 14th, Romania’s day for lovers is called Dragobete and is celebrated on February 24. It is also called "the day when the birds are betrothed” and the bird is considered the representation of love.
Festivals and celebrations are held during the Dragobete, where local boys and girls would head out to the forest to look for spring flowers. At noon, the girls would run back to the village with the boys chasing after them for a kiss. If a girl likes a boy, he lets her kiss him. It is believed that those who take part in Dragobete customs will be protected from fevers for the rest of the year.
South Korea (Image by Oceansong with three eyes, Flickr)
In many parts of the world, it is typically the guy who gives flowers and chocolates to the women. In South Korea, Valentine’s Day is when the women give chocolates to men as a sign of their affection. The men will reciprocate the action during White Day, held one month after on March 14. There is also an unspoken “rule of three” which dictates that the value of the gift of the man must be three times the value of the gift he received during Valentine’s Day.
One month after the White Day, on April 14, those who did not participate during February and March 14 will do so on what is called the Black Day. During this day, singles “mourn” and eat dark bowls of jajangmyeon or black bean-paste noodles alone or with their fellow singles. Black Day, however, is rarely practiced anymore.
Czech Republic (Image by Kevin Oliver, Flickr)
Although the younger Czechs are starting to celebrate Valentine’s Day as well, many Czechs still prefer to celebrate May 1 as their day of love. During the first day of May, lovers would pilgrimage to the statue of Karel Hynek Macha in Petrin Park. Karel was a Czech romantic poet who first started the May 1 celebrations with his poem entitled Máj which read:
“Late evening, on the first of May—
The twilit May—the time of love.
You can find the whole poem here.”
Couples would then spend the day in the park and it is customary to kiss under a blooming cherry tree. According to ancient legends, a girl who is not kissed on May 1 would wither and die in twelve months.