In the West
While sending cards, flowers, chocolates and other gifts is traditional in the UK, Valentine’s Day has various regional customs. In Norfolk, a character called ‘Jack’ Valentine knocks on the rear door of houses leaving sweets and presents for children. Although he was leaving treats, many children were scared of this mystical person. In Wales, many people celebrate Dydd Santes Dwynwen (St Dwynwen’s Day) on January 25 instead of (or as well as) Valentine’s Day. The day commemorates St Dwynwen, the patron saint of Welsh lovers. In France, a traditionally Catholic country, Valentine’s Day is known simply as “Saint Valentin”, and is celebrated in much the same way as other western countries. In Spain Valentine’s Day is known as “San Valentín” and is celebrated the same way as in the UK, although in Catalonia it is largely superseded by similar festivities of rose and/or book giving on La Diada de Sant Jordi (Saint George’s Day). In Portugal it is more commonly referred to as “Dia dos Namorados” (Lover’s Day / Day of those that are in love with each other).
In Denmark and Norway, although February 14 is known as Valentinsdag, it is not celebrated to a large extent, but is largely imported from American culture, and some people take time to eat a romantic dinner with their partner, to send a card to a secret love or give a red rose to their loved one. The cut-flower industry in particular is still working on promoting the holiday. In Sweden it is called Alla hjärtans dag (“All Hearts’ Day”) and was launched in the 1960s by the flower industry’s commercial interests, and due to the influence of American culture. It is not an official holiday, but its celebration is recognized and sales of cosmetics and flowers for this holiday are only exceeded by those for Mother’s Day.
In Finland Valentine’s Day is called Ystävänpäivä which translates into “Friend’s Day”. As the name indicates, this day is more about remembering all your friends, not only your loved ones. In Estonia Valentine’s Day is called Sõbrapäev, which has the same meaning.
In Slovenia, St Valentine or Zdravko was one of the saints of spring, the saint of good health and the patron of beekeepers and pilgrims. A proverb says that “St Valentine brings the keys of roots”. Plants and flowers start to grow on this day. It has been celebrated as the day when the first work in the vineyards and in the fields commences. It is also said that birds propose to each other or marry on that day. Another proverb says “Valentin – prvi spomladin” (“Valentine — the first spring saint”), as in some places (especially White Carniola), Saint Valentine marks the beginning of spring. Valentine’s Day has only recently been celebrated as the day of love. The day of love was traditionally March 12, the Saint Gregory’s day, or February 22, Saint Vincent’s Day. The patron of love was Saint Anthony, whose day has been celebrated on 13 June.
In Romania, the traditional holiday for lovers is Dragobete, which is celebrated on February 24. It is named after a character from Romanian folklore who was supposed to be the son of Baba Dochia. Part of his name is the word drag (“dear”), which can also be found in the word dragoste (“love”). In recent years, Romania has also started celebrating Valentine’s Day, despite already having Dragobete as a traditional holiday. This has drawn backlash from several groups, institutions and nationalist organizations like Noua Dreaptǎ, who condemn Valentine’s Day for being superficial, commercialist and imported Western kitsch.
Valentine’s Day is called Ημέρα του Αγίου Βαλεντίνου in Greece and Cyprus, which translates into “St Valentines day”. In the Orthodox church there is another Saint to protect people who are in love, but for Greeks Valentine’s Day is more popular.
In some Latin American countries Valentine’s Day is known as “Día del Amor y la Amistad” (Day of Love and Friendship). For example Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Mexico, and Puerto Rico, as well as others. It is also common to see people perform “acts of appreciation” for their friends.
In Guatemala it is known as the “Día del Cariño” (Affection Day).
In Brazil, the Dia dos Namorados (lit. “Lovers’ Day”, or “Boyfriends’/Girlfriends’ Day”) is celebrated on June 12, probably because it is the day before Saint Anthony’s day, known there as the marriage saint, when traditionally many single women perform popular rituals, called simpatias, in order to find a good husband or boyfriend. Couples exchange gifts, chocolates, cards and flower bouquets. The February 14’s Valentine’s Day is not celebrated at all because it usually falls too little before or after the Brazilian Carnival — that can fall anywhere from early February to early March and lasts almost a week. Because of the absence of Valentine’s Day and the celebrations of the Carnivals, Brazil is a popular tourist spot during February for Western singles to get away from the holiday.
In Venezuela, in 2009, President Hugo Chávez said in a meeting to his supporters for the upcoming referendum vote on February 15, that “since on the 14th, there will be no time of doing nothing, nothing or next to nothing … maybe a little kiss or something very superficial”, he recommended people to celebrate a week of love after the referendum vote
In most of Latin America the Día del amor y la amistad and the Amigo secreto (“Secret friend”) are quite popular and usually celebrated together on the 14 of February (one exception is Colombia, where it is celebrated every third Saturday of September). The latter consists of randomly assigning to each participant a recipient who is to be given an anonymous gift (similar to the Christmas tradition of Secret Santa).
Due to a concentrated marketing effort, Valentine’s Day is celebrated in some Asian countries with Singaporeans, Chinese and South Koreans spending the most money on Valentine’s gifts.
In South Korea, similar to Japan, women give chocolate to men on February 14, and men give non-chocolate candy to women on March 14 (White Day). On April 14 (Black Day), those who did not receive anything on 14 February or March go to a Korean restaurant to eat black noodles (자장면 jajangmyeon) and “mourn” their single life. Koreans also celebrate Pepero Day on November 11, when young couples give each other Pepero cookies. The date ’11/11′ is intended to resemble the long shape of the cookie. The 14th of every month marks a love-related day in Korea, although most of them are obscure. From January to December: Candle Day, Valentine’s Day, White Day, Black Day, Rose Day, Kiss Day, Silver Day, Green Day, Music Day, Wine Day, Movie Day, and Hug Day. Korean women give a much higher amount of chocolate than Japanese women.
In China, the common situation is the man gives chocolate, flowers or both to the woman that he loves. In Chinese, Valentine’s Day is called (simplified Chinese: 情人节; traditional Chinese: 情人節; pinyin: qíng rén jié). The so-called “Chinese Valentine’s Day” is the Qixi Festival, celebrated on the seventh day of the seventh month of the lunar calendar. It commemorates a day on which a legendary cowherder and weaving maid are allowed to be together. Valentine’s Day on February 14 is not celebrated because it is often too close to Chinese New Year, which usually falls on a February or January.
In Taiwan the situation is the reverse of Japan’s. Men give gifts to women on Valentine’s Day, and women return them on White Day.
In the Philippines, Valentine’s Day is called “Araw ng mga Puso” or “Hearts Day”. It is usually marked by a steep increase in the prices of flowers.
In Japan, Morozoff Ltd. introduced the holiday for the first time in 1936, when it ran an advertisement aimed at foreigners. Later in 1953 it began promoting the giving of heart-shaped chocolates; other Japanese confectionery companies followed suit thereafter. In 1958 the Isetan department store ran a “Valentine sale”. Further campaigns during the 1960s popularized the custom.
The custom that only women give chocolates to men appears to have originated from the translation error of a chocolate-company executive during the initial campaigns. In particular, office ladies give chocolate to their co-workers. Unlike western countries, gifts such as greeting cards, candies, flowers, or dinner dates are uncommon, and most of the activity about the gifts is about giving the right amount of chocolate to each person. Japanese chocolate companies make half their annual sales during this time of the year.
Many women feel obliged to give chocolates to all male co-workers, except when the day falls on a Sunday, a holiday. This is known as giri-choko (義理チョコ), from giri (“obligation”) and choko, (“chocolate”), with unpopular co-workers receiving only “ultra-obligatory” chō-giri choko cheap chocolate. This contrasts with honmei-choko (本命チョコ, favorite chocolate), chocolate given to a loved one. Friends, especially girls, may exchange chocolate referred to as tomo-choko (友チョコ); from tomo meaning “friend”.
In the 1980s the Japanese National Confectionery Industry Association launched a successful campaign to make March 14 a “reply day”, where men are expected to return the favour to those who gave them chocolates on Valentine’s Day, calling it White Day for the color of the chocolates being offered. A previous failed attempt to popularize this celebration had been done by a marshmallow manufacturer who wanted men to return marshmallows to women.
Men are expected to return gifts that are at least two or three times more valuable than the gifts received in Valentine’s Day. Not returning the gift is perceived as the man placing himself in a position of superiority, even if excuses are given. Returning a present of equal value is considered as a way to say that you are cutting the relationship. Originally only chocolate was given, but now the gifts of jewelry, accessories, clothing and lingerie are usual. According to the official website of White Day, the color white was chosen because it’s the color of purity, evoking “pure, sweet teen love”, and because it’s also the color of sugar. The initial name was “Ai ni Kotaeru White Day” (Answer Love on White Day).
In Japan, the romantic “date night” associated to Valentine’s Day is celebrated on Christmas Eve.
In a 2006 survey of people between 10 and 49 years of age in Japan, Oricon Style found the 1986 Sayuri Kokushō single, Valentine Kiss, to be the most popular Valentine’s Day song, even though it sold only 317,000 copies. The singles it beat in the ranking were number one selling Love Love Love from Dreams Come True (2,488,630 copies) and Valentine’s Radio from Yumi Matsutoya (1,606,780 copies). The final song in the top five was My Funny Valentine by Miles Davis.
Similar Asian traditions
In Chinese culture, there is an older observance related to lovers, called “The Night of Sevens” (Chinese: 七夕; pinyin: Qi Xi). According to the legend, the Cowherd star and the Weaver Maid star are normally separated by the Milky Way (silvery river) but are allowed to meet by crossing it on the 7th day of the 7th month of the Chinese calendar.
In Japan, a slightly different version of 七夕 called Tanabata has been celebrated for centuries, on July 7 (Gregorian calendar). It has been considered by Westerners as similar to St. Valentine’s Day, but it’s not related to it, and its origins are completely different.
In India, in the antiquity, there was a tradition of adoring Kamadeva, the lord of love; exemplificated by the erotic carvings in the Khajuraho Group of Monuments and by the writing of the Kamasutra treaty of lovemaking. This tradition was lost around the Middle Ages, when Kamadeva was no longer celebrated, and public displays of sexual affections became frowned upon. The festival of Rasa (Rasa Utsav), a celebration of Radha and Krishna’s legendary love affair; once popular in the Eastern part of the subcontinent (Bengal and Odisha) is also noteworthy in this context; though at present times this is observed by a small number of people. In the state of West Bengal, Saraswati Puja, a festival observed in early spring where Saraswati, the goddess of learning is worshiped; has often been seen as a Bengali version of Valentine’s day; especially among the urban middle class youth. Around 1992, Valentine’s Day celebrations started catching up in India, with special TV and radio programs, and even love letter competitions. The economic liberalization also helped the Valentine card industry.
In modern times, Hindu and Islamic traditionalists consider the holiday to be cultural contamination from the West, result of the globalization in India. Shiv Sena and the Sangh Parivar have asked their followers to shun the holiday and the “public admission of love” because of them being “alien to Indian culture”.
Although these protests are organized by political elites, the protesters themselves are middle-class Hindu men who fear that the globalization will destroy the traditions in their society: arranged marriages, Hindu joint families, full-time mothers, etc.
Despite these obstacles, Valentine’s Day is becoming increasingly popular in India.
However, Valentine’s Day has been strongly criticized from a postcolonial perspective by intellectuals from the Indian left. The holiday is regarded as a front for Western imperialism, neocolonialism, and the exploitation of working classes through commercialism by multinational corporations. Studies have shown that Valentine’s Day promotes and exacerbates income inequality in India, and aids in the creation of a pseudo-westernized middle class. As a result, the working classes and rural poor become more disconnected socially, politically, and geographically from the hegemonic capitalist power structure. They also criticize mainstream media attacks on Indians opposed to Valentine’s Day as a form of demonization that is designed and derived to further the Valentine’s Day agenda. Right wing Hindu nationalists are also hostile. In February 2012 Subash Chouhan of the Bajrang Dal warned couples that “They cannot kiss or hug in public places. Our activists will beat them up”. He said “We are not against love, but we criticize vulgar exhibition of love at public places”.
Guru Asaram Bapu says the modern holiday corrupts young people and breaks the nation’s backbone. He says that young people look at each other with lust before they are married. He says that the dissipation of their sexual energy weakens their eyesight, intellect and their future. He calls for celebrating instead a “Love Day”, and sublimated those feelings into honouring our parents. Bapu states that “Those who celebrate Valentine’s Day’ are only degrading Saint Valentine, as by sending the valentine’s card they try to develop a licentious relationship with their beloveds even before marriage. Had this been agreeable to Valentine, he would not have arranged for the marriages.”
In Iran, the Sepandarmazgan, or Esfandegan, is a festival where people express love towards their mothers and wives, and also a celebration of earth in ancient Persian culture. It has nothing in common with the Saint Valentine celebration, except for a superficial similarity in giving affection and gifts to loved ones, and its origins and motivations are completely unrelated. It has been progressively forgotten in favor of the Western celebration of Valentine’s Day. The Association of Iran’s Cultural and Natural Phenomena has been trying since 2006 to make Sepandarmazgan a national holiday on 17 February, in order to replace the Western holiday.
In Israel, the Jewish tradition of Tu B’Av has been revived and transformed into the Jewish equivalent of Valentine’s Day. It’s celebrated in 15th day of the month of Av (usually late August). In ancient times girls would wear white dresses and dance in the vineyards, where the boys would be waiting for them (Mishna Taanith end of Chapter 4). Today, this is celebrated as a second holiday of love by secular people (besides Saint Valentine’s Day), and shares many of the customs associated with Saint Valentine’s Day in western societies. In modern Israeli culture this is a popular day to pronounce love, propose marriage and give gifts like cards or flowers.
Conflict with Islamic countries and political parties
In Saudi Arabia, in 2002 and 2011, religious police banned the sale of all Valentine’s Day items, telling shop workers to remove any red items, as the day is considered a Christian holiday. In 2008 this ban created a black market of roses and wrapping paper.
The concept of Valentine’s Day was introduced in Pakistan during the late 1990s with special TV and radio programs. The Jamaat-e-Islami political party has called for the banning of Valentine’s Day celebration. Despite this, the celebration is becoming popular among urban youth and the florists expect to sell great amount of flowers, especially red roses. Same is the case with card publishers. However, public at large still consider Valentine’s Day as opposed to Pakistani culture and Islamic teachings.
In the first part of the 21st century, the celebration of Valentine’s Day in Iran has been harshly criticized by Islamic Teachers who see the celebrations as opposed to Islamic culture. In 2011, the Iranian printing works owners’ union issued a directive banning the printing and distribution of any goods promoting the holiday, including cards, gifts and teddy bears. “Printing and producing any goods related to this day including posters, boxes and cards emblazoned with hearts or half-hearts, red roses and any activities promoting this day are banned… Outlets that violate this will be legally dealt with”, the union warned.
Islamic officials in Malaysia warned Muslims against celebrating Valentine’s Day, linking it with vice activities. Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin said the celebration of romantic love was “not suitable” for Muslims. Wan Mohamad Sheikh Abdul Aziz, head of the Malaysian Islamic Development Department (Jakim), which oversees the country’s Islamic policies said a fatwa (ruling) issued by the country’s top clerics in 2005 noted the day ‘is associated with elements of Christianity,’ and ‘we just cannot get involved with other religion’s worshipping rituals.’ Jakim officials planned to carry out a nationwide campaign called “Awas Jerat Valentine’s Day” (“Mind the Valentine’s Day Trap”), aimed at preventing Muslims from celebrating the day on 14 February 2011. Activities include conducting raids in hotels to stop young couples from having unlawful sex and distributing leaflets to Muslim university students warning them against the day.
On Valentine’s Day 2011, Malaysian religious authorities arrested more than 100 Muslim couples concerning the celebration ban. Some of them would be charged in the Shariah Court for defying the department’s ban against the celebration of Valentine’s Day.
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